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Brewster Ghiselin 



A Symposium 

University of California Press : Berkeley and Los Angeles : 1954 












and, as an afterthought, 
to the man from Porloc^ 


THANKS are due the publishers of the following works for their 
courtesy in permitting me to make brief quotations in my Introduction. 

The Macmillan Company, New York City, publishers of Science and 
the Modern World, by Alfred North Whitehead, 1925; and "Introduction," 
by T. S. Eliot in Selected Poems, by Marianne Moore, 1935. 

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York City, publishers of 
The Road to Xanadu, by John Livingston Lowes, 1930. 

Cassell & Co., Ltd., London, and Doubleday & Co., New York City, pub- 
lishers of The Life and Letters of Anton TcheJ^hov, translated and edited 
by S. S. Koteliansky and Philip Tomlinson. 

Charles Scribner's Sons, New York City, publishers of The Ambassadors, 
by Henry James, 1922, and The American, by Henry James, 1922. 

"De Spieghel" Ltd., Amsterdam, publishers of "Introductory Essay on 
van Gogh's Art," in Vincent van Gogh's Great Period, by W. Scherjon 
and Jos. De Gruyter, 1937. 

Alfred A. Knopf, Incorporated, New York City, publishers of Joseph 
and His Brothers, by Thomas Mann, copyright 1934. 

J. M. Dent & Sons, London, publishers of Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. 


OOME of the selections in this anthology are intact, some are excerpts drawn 
from contexts of less pertinent material, and some have been more or less 
reduced by excisions, mainly as a means of conserving space but sometimes 
in order to remove material not essential to the purpose of this book. Omis- 
sion of material has been indicated by use of ellipsis periods in the text. 
In editing such passages, it has not always been possible to preserve the full 
esthetic integrity of the original, but utmost care has been exercised in 
preserving the import. 



INTRODUCTION : Brewster Ghisdin : i 
MATHEMATICAL CREATION : Henri Poincare : 23 
LETTER TO JACQUES HADAMARD : Albert Einstein : 32 
A LETTER : Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : 34 

THE COMPOSER AND HIS MESSAGE .* Roger Sessions .' 36 

THE MUSICAL MIND : Harold Shapero : 41 


CONVERSATION WITH PICASSO : Christian Zervos : 48 
EAST TO WEST : Yasuo Kuniyoshi : 54 

BEFORE PARIS AND AFTT5R .' Julian Levi : 56 

MAKING PICTURES : D.H.Lawrence : 62 
NOTES ON SCULPTURE : Henry Moore : 68 




PREFATORY NOTE TO KUBLA KHAN ; Samuel Taylor Coleridge : 83 







THE MAKING OF A POEM : Stephen Spender : 113 
THE BIRTH OF A POEM : Brewster Ghiselin : 127 

REMEMBERING HART CRANE : Malcolm Cowley .* 148 

WORKING-TOOLS : Rudyard Kipling : 161 
HOW FLINT AND FIRE STARTED AND GREW : Dorothy Can field : 173 
LETTER TO WARNER TAYLOR : Uewelyn Powys : 181 
jtEFLEcriONS ON WRITING : Henry Miller : 184 
THE STORY OF A NOVEL : Thomas Wolfe : 192 
NOTES ON WRITING : Katherine Anne Porter : 206 





.NTEREST in the creative process is not exactly a new development. A story 
told of the wording habits of Euripides may be apocryphal; but both Plato 
and Aristotle had something to say of the creative process, and from time to 
time during the next two thousand years other writers touched upon it. 
Early in the nineteenth century interest in it increased. Bla\e, Wordsworth f 
Coleridge f Shelley, and Keats all had their say. Foe's "Philoso'phy of Compo- 
sition" became an incitement to further attention. Interest in the subject is 
still growing. 

Besides a good deal of objective discussion of the creative process, chiefly 
by philosophers, psychologists, and other scientists, a large amount of com- 
ment and description of individual processes and insights has accumulated, 
most of it fragmentary, some of it not perfectly reliable. Among these mate- 
rials the most illuminating and entertaining are the more full and systematic 
descriptions of invention and the reflections upon it made by the men and 
women most in position to observe and understand, the thinkers and artists 
themselves. Perhaps the greatest body of such writing is the monumental 
wor\ of Henry James, the prefaces to the New Yor^ edition of his worJ{. 

Introduction i 

Some of the reasons for attention to the creative process are practical. One 
incentive for compiling this anthology, a selection of some of the more 
revealing discussions of invention, is that insight into the processes of inven- 
tion can increase the efficiency of almost any developed and active intelli- 
gence. Not even the most vigorously creative minds always find their way 
quickly to efficiency. Yet many creative workers have little \nowledge of 
the pertinent materials and would not \now where to loo\ for them. Some 
of the richest and most useful are scattered and out-of-the-way. There is, 
moreover, no large collection of statements about the creative process that 
is much more than a compendium of fragments. It has therefore seemed 
worth while to bring together some of the longer and more complete source 
materials, exhibiting a fairly full range of methods in the various fields of 
activity. Having read through such a selection of writings one will not 
simply have observed the fundamentals, which are all but inescapable. One 
should have acquired a sense of the bearing of these fundamentals, a feeling 
for the whole process, and a lively sense of the divergencies of individual 
approach and procedure. 

Today, when widespread, deep, and rapid changes are taking place in 
the very structure of our lives, whether we desire it or not, and when still 
other changes seem necessary to preserve us from disaster, understanding 
of the creative process is particularly important because it can assist in the 
control of these difficult developments. The creative process is the process 
of change, of development, of evolution, in the organization of subjective 
life. The inventive minds through whose activity that evolution has been 
initiated and in large part accomplished have usually been the only ones 
much concerned with it. Their efforts have rarely been sustained by society, 
and have sometimes even been hindered. There is little comfort in reflecting 
that vital change has gone on despite all opposition or indifference, that the 
wor\ of Galileo was done and put to use in spite of obstruction and that 
Barto^ composed a great deal of music while enduring the neglect that left 
him in sickening poverty. There is no way of estimating how much the 
development of humanity has been lamed by such delay and waste. Simply 
the self-interest of mankind calls for a more general effort to foster the in- 
vention of life. And that effort can be guided intelligently only by insight 
into the nature of the creative process. Understanding the activities of those 
who supply the needs of life, both their own and others', by defining some 
fresh organization of subjective processes, we may help them to get their 
wor\ done. Opening our minds to their insights and putting them to what 
use they may have, we may assist in the creative process, which completes 
itself only as the products of invention transform the environment the 
inventor breathes. 

2 The Creative Process 

The human mind is prepared to wrap the whole planet in a shroud, and 
the exercise of all our best effort and ingenuity has produced no assurance 
whatever that it will be deterred from that end. The prolonged failure of 
traditional means in dealing with this problem does not prove those means 
useless. It does strongly suggest their inadequacy. For, as knowledge of the 
creative process dr : ?s us to conclude, although a problem which stub- 
bornly resists solution by traditional means may perhaps be insoluble, the 
probability is rather that those means are themselves inadequate: the con- 
cepts, attitudes, and procedures employed are probably at fault and in need 
of being transcended in a fresh approach. The only reasonable step, at this 
point, then, is to act upon the supposition that our problems in world crisis, 
as at other times, may be soluble only creatively that is, by a profound and 
thorough alteration of our inner life and of the outer forms in which life 
finds expression and support. Certainly some changes are requisite. The 
necessary change, if it comes at all, may have to be so quicJ^ and sharp an 
evolution as to seem revolutionary. If it does not come soon, if the limiting 
forms of our consciousness, the sometimes too-rigid patterns of current 
thought and feeling, are not shaped quickly to meet the needs of life, there 
is grave danger that they will simply continue to possess us until too late. 

One might suppose it easy to detect creative talent and to recognize crea- 
tive impulse and creative wor\. But the difficulties are considerable. Because 
every creative act overpasses the established order in some way and in some 
degree, it is lively at first to appear eccentric to most men. An inventor ordi- 
narily must begin in isolation and draw the group to himself only as it is 
discovered, sometimes very slowly, that he has invented some part of what 
they are in need of. At the beginning of his struggle for realization his 
originality may achieve no more striding manifestation than an extreme 
dissatisfaction with established order. 

Vincent van Gogh must have felt some such dissatisfaction when in 1880 
he wrote to his brother Theo about his feeling that he was one of those men 
who are somehow mysteriously imprisoned, "prisoners in an I-don't-%now- 
what-for horrible, horrible, utterly horrible cage" As we know, the trouble 
was not that van Gogh was incapable of action. It was rather that he had 
not found that expression of his impulses which would satisfy him. He 
writes further of "the man who is doomed to remain idle, whose heart is 
eaten out by an anguish for wor\, but who does nothing because it is im- 
possible for him to do anything, because he is as it were imprisoned in some- 
thing. Because he hasn't got just that which he needs in order to be creative. 
Because the fate of circumstances has reduced him to a state of nothingness. 
Such a man often doesn't %now himself what he might do, but he feels in- 
stinctively: yet am 1 good for something, yet am I aware of some reason for 
existing 1 1 fyiow that I might be a totally different manl How then can I be 

Introduction ? 

useful, how can I be of service! Something is alive in me: what can it be!" 
How are we to differentiate this expression of the artist's sense of his 
unrealized possibilities from the petulance of incapacity dissatisfied with its 
lot? There seems no immediate way to do so. The criterion is the proof of 
production by the artist, if he is Me to find himself. But I suspect that he 
does not always find himself, that he may loo\ in the end li\e nothing more 
than an ineffectual misfit. 

Van Gogh's uncertainty as to what he might be is typical The inventor, 
whether artist or thinker, creates the structure of his psychic life by means 
of his wor\s. As C. G. Jung remarks: "The wor\ in process becomes the 
poet's fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who 
creates Faust, but Faust which creates Goethe!' Yet it is only as the worl^ is 
done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and that the develop- 
ment of the artist brought about by it is attained. This is why the creative 
urge may be at first so extremely vague as hardly to identify itself. The terms 
of its expression are not to be found in the world, but must be invented: 
the simplest terms of the new order have yet to be discovered and made 

Even to the creator himself, the earliest effort may seem to involve a com- 
merce with disorder. For the creative order, which is an extension of life, is 
not an elaboration of the established, but a movement beyond the estab- 
lished, or at the least a reorganization of it and often of elements not in- 
cluded in it. The first need is therefore to transcend the old order. Before 
any new order can be defined, the absolute power of the established, the hold 
upon us of what we %now and are, must be broken. New life comes always 
from outside our world, as we commonly conceive that world. This is the 
reason why, in order to invent, one must yield to the indeterminate within 
him, or, more precisely, to certain ill-defined impulses which seem to be 
of the very texture of the ungoverned fullness which John Livingston Lowes 
calls "the surging chaos of the unexpressed!' 

Chaos and disorder are perhaps the wrong terms for that indeterminate 
fullness and activity of the inner life. For it is organic, dynamic, full of ten- 
sion and tendency. What is absent from it, except in the decisive act of 
creation, is determination, fixity, any commitment to one resolution or an- 
other of the whole complex of its tensions. It is a wording sea of indecision, 
li\e the soul of a woman making up her mind. But if it were altogether 
without order of some J^ind it would be without life. 

Creation begins typically with a vague, even a confused excitement, some 
sort of yearning, hunch, or other preverbal intimation of approaching or 
potential resolution. Stephen Spender's expression is exact: "a dim cloud of 
an idea which I feel must be condensed into a shower of words" Alfred 
North Whitehead spea\s of "the state of imaginative muddled suspense 

4 The Creative Process 

which precedes successful inductive generalization'' and there is much 
other testimony to the same effect. 

In some invention there is consciousness of a stage yet more primitive, a 
condition of complete indecision in the words of Isadora Duncan, "a state 
of complete suspense" in which nothing tends toward determination, 
nothing of a particular character seems to be implied, in which, therefore, 
all is still apparently free. It is ali^e for thin\er and artist the offering of 
adventure, but adventure nameless and featureless, which shall be defined 
by something not even in the periphery of consciousness, but rather implicit 
in the whole spread of the subjective life. This state in no way involves or 
suggests irresolution. Paradoxically it often appears as an enhancement of 
certainty. It is as if the mind delivered from preoccupation with particulars 
were given into secure possession of its whole substance and activity. This 
yielding to the oceanic consciousness may be a distracting delight, which as 
Jacques Maritain has pointed out can divert the worker from formal achieve- 
ment. In this extreme the experience verges upon the religious; but it is 
rarely so intense or so pure, and, when it is, it is not often so enduring a pre- 
occupation as to constitute a real threat to performance. More often it de- 
fines itself as no more than a sense of self-surrender to an inward necessity 
inherent in something larger than the ego and taking precedence over the 
established order. 

Frequently the creative worker experiences first neither this sheer readi- 
ness for the new nor that vague presentiment 'of some novel development 
felt to be specific but as yet undefined. The invention may appear spontane- 
ously and without apparent preliminaries, sometimes in the form of a mere 
glimpse serving as a clue, or li\e a germ to be developed; sometimes a frag- 
ment of the whole, whether rudimentary and requiring to be worked into 
shape or already in its final form; sometimes essentially complete, though 
needing expansion, verification, or the liJ(e. The mathematician Jacques 
Hadamard records that "On being very abruptly awakened by an external 
noise, a solution long searched for appeared to me at once without the slight- 
est instant of reflection on my part the fact was remarkable enough to 
have struct^ me unforgettablyand in a quite different direction from any 
of those which I had previously tried to follow." Spontaneous appearance 
of inventions very fully formed is not extremely rare, but it is by no means 
ordinary. Spontaneity is common, but what is given is usually far from com- 
plete. Commonly the new element appears simultaneously with some such 
vague intimation of further development as I have described. 
J*Foduction by a process of purely conscious calculation seems never to 
fccur. Though Poe laid claim to it, his singular testimony is not enough to 
establish it as a fact. It cannot and ought not to be rejected as impossible, but 
it does not fit the* facts reported almost universally and in every field of ere a- 

Introduction < 

tivc wor\. Not only Shelley, Bla\e, Ernst, Henry James and many other 
artists of great note or of little have described some considerable part of their 
invention as entirely spontaneous and involuntary that is, as automatic, 
invention automatic in this sense is claimed also by a variety of intellectual 
workers, such as Spencer, Nietzsche, Sir W. Rowan Hamilton, C. F. Gauss. 
More of less of such automatism is reported by nearly every worker who has 
much to say about his processes, and no creative process has been demon- 
strated to be wholly free from it. 

Anton Chekhov has insisted that only a lunatic would create quite auto- 
matically: ". . . to deny that artistic creation involves problems and purposes 
would be to admit that an artist creates without premeditation, without de- 
sign, under a spell. Therefore if an artist boasted to me of having written a 
story without a previously settled design, but by inspiration, I should call 
him a lunatic." But this is rather a protest against the view that completely 
automatic production is normal than an attempt to rule out all automatism 
whatever in normal invention. 

Automatism appears to be fundamental in the activity which Henri Poin- 
care observed on the notable occasion when having drun\ coffee he lay 
unable to sleep and became a spectator of some ordinarily hidden aspects of 
his own spontaneous creative activity: ''Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them 
collide until pairs interlocked, so to speal^, making a stable combination. By 
the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian func- 
tions, those which come from the hyper geometric series; I had only to write 
out the results, which toof( but a few hours." Though Poincare was con- 
scious, he did not assume direction of his creative activity at the stage de- 
scribed; and as it seems to have been a sort of activity not susceptible of 
conscious control, apparently he could not have done so. If he is right in 
supposing that what he witnessed was typical of processes ordinarily sub- 
liminal, then some part of his creative process a classical example was 

Another u>or\er likewise of highly developed intellect, but in another 
field, has reported somewhat similar observations of automatic production 
going on under the fully wakeful eye of consciousness. In his preface to The 
Ambassadors Henry James records some conscious production so smooth 
and inevitable as to suggest an unconscious, wholly automatic development 
if consciousness had not fully operated: ". . . the steps, for my fable f placed 
themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional assurance an air quite 
as of readiness to have dispensed with logic had I been in fact too stupid for 
my clue" That much did happen quite automatically, though with the as- 
sent of his judgment, becomes apparent as he continues: "Never, positively, 
none the less, as the lin\s multiplied, had I felt less stupid than for the deter- 
mination of poor Strether's errand and for the apprehension of his issue. 

6 The Creative Process 

These things continued to fall together, as by the neat action of their own 
weight and form, even while their commentator scratched his head about 
them; he easily sees now that they were always well in advance of him. As 
the case completed itself he had in fact, from a good way behind, to catch 
up with them, breathless and a little flurried, as he best could' 1 

From this account of spontaneous and involuntary production in a state 
of heightened awareness, it would appear that automatic invention, far from 
being a sign of diminished, imperfectly functioning consciousness, is a 
healthy activity supplementary to conscious invention and in no way incon- 
sistent with it. The automatic functioning in invention is, rather than an 
inferior or suspect substitute (or an exalted one), an extension of activity 
beyond the limited scope of that which is shaped by insight, the conscious 
activity, which is an observant adjustment of exactly appreciated means to 
known ends. Something beyond the fully observable conscious construction 
takes place, to the advantage of consciousness, or of the consciousness able 
to ma%e use of it. 

The notion that automatic and t conscious production are somehow op- 
posed is not altogether groundless, however. The constructive nature of the 
automatic functioning argues the existence of an activity analogous to con- 
sciousness though hidden from observation, and we have therefore termed 
it unconscious. The negative prefix suggests an opposition, but it is no more 
than verbal, not any sort of hostility or incompatibility being implied by it, 
but simply the absence of consciousness. Yet a real opposition between the 
conscious and the unconscious activity does subsist in the limitations which 
the former tends to impose on the latter. The established possessions of con- 
sciousness have a way of persisting, particularly when they are part of a 
scheme, and of determining behavior, including a large part of that which 
is unconscious or imperfectly conscious. If this were not so our psychic lives 
would of course have little stability. 

But this conservative tendency hinders the introduction of anything fun- 
damentally new. The first impulse toward new order in the pyschic life is 
therefore, as it must be, an impulse away from the clearly determined, from 
all that is most easily attended to and that most forcefully imprints itself 
upon the attention. That is, it is an impulse away from the conscious ac- 
tivity already in motion or potential, which would simply reduce it to itself. 
In the sense of this aversion, it is an impulse toward unconsciousness. This 
is the real opposition to which I have referred, this reaction against one an- 
other of the old order which is more or less readily realizable in the focus of 
attention and the potential new order developing, and often competing 
against it, in obscurity. It is not the two activities which are opposed, the 
conscious and the unconscious, but the 'principles acting in them. 

Introduction 7 

The opposition is often dramatized in objective situations, as when van 
Gogh agonizes in a morbid inactivity because none of the current ways of 
expression can give issue to the nameless life within him for which he has 
not yet found a path. As long as he tries to move in the old ways, he is frus- 
trated. For the emphasis of desire falls upon the unrealized rather than on 
the explicit elements in his psychic life. 

Even when an artist has found his way, the opposition between the new 
and the old persists, for the unrealized continues to draw him. This is true 
also of the scientist and creative man of action, of all inventors, who may be 
said to be a restless group. It has been pointed out by Jacques Hadamdrd 
that the more vigorous creative minds among the scientists are often in- 
clined to drop a project when the less inventive begin to swarm upon it, and 
to go on to something fresh. Artists do this too. So Ezra Pound abandoned 
Imagism and other movements. Pablo Picasso creates movements but does 
not lead them. 

The nature of this restlessness is well defined by Thomas Mann near the 
end of the meditations which introduce his story of Joseph : "As for me, who 
now draw my narrative to a close, to plunge, voluntarily, into limitless ad- 
venture (the word 'plunge' being used advisedly), I will not conceal my 
native and comprehensive understanding of the old man's restless unease 
and dislike of any fixed habitation. For do I not {now the feeling? To me 
too has not unrest been ordained, have not I too been endowed with a heart 
which knoweth not repose? The story-teller's star is it not the moon, lord 
of the road, the wanderer, who moves in his stations, one after another, free- 
ing himself from each? For the story-teller maizes many a station, roving 
and relating, but pauses only tentwise, awaiting further directions, and soon 
feels his heart beating high, partly with desire, partly too from fear and 
anguish of the flesh, but in any case as a sign that he must ta\e the road, 
towards fresh adventures which are to be painstakingly lived through, down 
to their remotest details, according to the restless spirit's will!' 

The restlessness of the inventor is unending because he is an adept in 
realization, he has an inordinate appetite for discovery and the ability to 
satisfy it. He is often a specialist, with less psychic inertia than the average 
man, 'and, sometimes, with less stability. But he is not inclined, as some 
imagine, to mere wandering, to dizzy excursions away from the determi- 
nate. He is not a tramp. He is drawn by the unrealized toward realization. 
His job is, as Wordsworth says, "the widening the sphere of human sensi- 
bility, ...the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe!' 
He wor\s toward clarification, toward consciousness. That opposition be- 
tween the conscious and the unconscious activities in creation which t$e 
have noticed is only superficial, or rather is only initial. The new ord^f 1 
which creation is concerned with has an affinity for consciousness. 

8 The Creative Process 

r e 

But because any new movement of the psychic life can find its freedom 
only outside consciousness, or at least in some degree of dissociation from 
consciousness f it has always at first the aspect of adventurous departure from 
the T^nown, in so far as it has any aspects of which we can be aware, in so far 
as it is not altogether subliminal. This casting loose the ties of security re- 
quires courage and understanding. It requires some courage to move alone, 
often counter to popular prepossessions, and toward uncertainties. And to 
move free of the established requires the understanding that the established 
is not absolute, but is only the instrumentality of life, is justified only by the 
service it renders to life, and has no meaning apart from vital needs. 

The faithful formalist has no chance of creating anything. Hence a cer- 
tain amount of eccentricity, some excess, taint, or "tyfyeishness" is often 
prized by creative minds as a guarantee of ability to move apart or aside, 
outside. Drugs or alcohol are sometimes used to produce abnormal states to 
the same end of disrupting the habitual set of the mind, but they are of du- 
bious value, apart from the dangers of addiction, since their action reduces 
judgment, and the activities they provoke are hallucinatory rather than 
illuminating. What is needed is control and direction. 
/ For the desirable end is not the refreshment of escape into whatever nov- 
elty may chance to offer or impose itself, but the discovery of some novelty 
needed to augment or supplant the existing possessions of the mind. This is 
as true of invention in the arts and in pure science as it is of the so-called 
practical inventions the immediate use of which escapes no one. It is not 
always so obvious. A familiar example is furnished by tfiejiomantic move- 
ment at about the beginning of the nineteenth century, which appeared to 
the unsympathetic to be something li\e an hysterical experiment in self- 
indulgence, the eccentricity of an ill-balanced, undisciplined, irresponsible 
crew. Some still incline to this view, but their perspective appears to be spe- 
cial. To others it seems clear that the movement was a vital corrective. It 
was a turn toward balance and wholeness, largely through resumption of 
interest in the particular, the individual elements of the inner and the outer 
life in all their variety and range. It admitted to the mind a flood of stimulat- 
ing and nourishing experience that had been excluded, and it allowed a 
fresh examination of reality and fresh formulation of meaning and assign- 
ment of values. 

In a very narrow sense, the charges brought against these initiators are 
valid; the Romantics were eccentric, undisciplined, and irresponsible. Cer- 
tainly they were not centered upon the established order of life. They were, 
however, centered upon another order which they were striving to realize. 
Obviously they were not disciplined to sustain the established, because they 
would not submit to be; but they disciplined themselves to find and elab- 
\>rate an order fit to supplant it. And they were not responsible to intrenched 

Introduction 9 

interests; yet in wording and suffering to foster emergent ones, they proved 
their deep responsibility to life. What they achieved has been found to have, 
besides the novelty incidental to all invention, the specific kind of usefulness 
which was the consequence of their striving successfully toward a particular 

Likewise in pure science the end is not novelty, but use. Neither in art nor 
in science is the use always anticipated. Application of a scientific truth to 
narrowly practical purposes may even never occur, and it often follows long 
after the discovery. But it is evident that in both art and science the inventor 
is to some degree incited and guided by a sense of value in the end sought, 
something very much li\e an intimation of usefulness. Jacques Hadamard 
has pointed out that although when the Greeks studied the ellipse they could 
not find any use for its properties which they discovered, their wor\ was 
the necessary preliminary for some of the most important discoveries of 
Kepler and Newton. And he asserts on the authority of his own analogous 
experience that they were guided by esthetic feeling in their selection of the 
ellipse rather than some less fruitful matter. Other mathematicians have in- 
sisted on the importance of esthetic emotion as a guide in mathematical 
invention, among them Henri Poincare, who has stated that what serves to 
bring certain ones (only the most useful) of all the teeming unconscious 
elements into the focus of the mathematician's attention is their power to 
affect his esthetic sensibility. In thus emphasizing the creative ^or\er f s de- 
pendence on affective guides rather than on any explicit intellectual process, 
the mathematicians are in essential agreement with the artists: William 
Butler Yeats believed that instinct led him to choose one subject rather than 
another; Willa Gather has said that the deeper sympathies dictate the choice. 
In all this it is clear that creative minds feel drawn toward specific material 
with which to wor\: the creative impulse is no mere appetite for novelty, 
for it is highly selective. It is so even when governed by no explicit idea of 
its end. The selection is evidence of an implicit end, however, to the nature 
of which the emotion is for a time the only clue. It is li\e the disturbance at 
the surface of the water which betokens activity beneath. 

The end to be reached, then, in any creative process, is not whatever solid 
or silly issue the ego or accident may decree, but some specific order urged 
upon the mind by something inherent in its own vital condition of being 
and perception, yet nowhere in view. The creative process in its unconscious 
action has often been compared to the growth of a child in the womb. The 
comparison is a good one, as it nicely communicates the important fact that 
the process is an organic development, and it helps to dispel the notion that 
creation is simply an act of canny calculation governed by wish, will, and 
expediency. But as the figure suggests a complete automatism, it is inapplic- 
able to a large part of the creative process; and even in the automatic stages, 

10 The Creative Process 

those termed by Henri Poincare "unconscious worJ(' and "inspiration" 
the process is not so unconscious and sure. 

The fact is that the mind in creation and in preparation for it nearly 
always requires some management. Most creative workers pic\ up what 
they %now about this by trial and error, by casual observation of themselves 
and others, and from such comment as they may chance upon. The conse- 
quences of learning so haphazardly are hard to estimate, but obviously they 
are not always good. Joseph Conrad suffered from agonizing stoppages of 
wor\, Coleridge left masterpieces unfinished. Possibly these artists were 
hindered by personal defects of the sort that interfere with other activities 
besides invention, and they may even have been beyond help. Yet it is lively 
that if Coleridge had only shut the door in the face of the man "from Por- 
locl(' who interrupted the composition of "Kubla Khan" he would have 
been able to continue the writing. But avoiding such fatal interruptions is a 
minor difficulty, scarcely illustrative of the problems of management. Con- 
rad was able to leave the matter entirely to his wife. 

The larger objects of management are two: discovering the clue that sug- 
gests the development to be sought, that intimates the creative end to be 
reached, and assuring a certain and economical movement toward that end. 
The indispensable condition of success in either stage of production is that 
freedom from the established schemes of consciousness the importance of 
which I have already pointed out. It is essential to remember that the crea- 
tive end is never in full sight at the beginning and that it is brought wholly 
into view only when the process of creation is completed. It is not to be 
found by scrutiny of the conscious scene, because it is never there. Yet the 
necessary step is not retirement altogether from the conscious scene, into a 
meaningless blackout. Much of the meaning in that scene may survive in 
succeeding ones, as an essential contribution to their fresh life. What is 
necessary is to be able to loo\ into the wings where the action is not yet 
organized, and to feel the importance of what is happening off stage. It may 
not seem to be much. The young artist is lively to feel that it is nothing, and 
to go on imitating. Yet it is only there, behind the scenes that are so largely 
given over to the impressive play of traditional activity, that the new can be 
prepared. No matter how meager, dull, disorderly, and fragmentary the off- 
stage action, it must be attended to. For only on the fringes of consciousness 
and in the deeper backgrounds into which they fade away is freedom 

We are not usually much aware of 'this less determinate part of our psychic 
life, for consciousness is dominated by system, to which we cling. The 
schematic consciousness is safe, more or less manageable the tidy and 
reassuring world of our familiar psychic life. What lies outside is popularly 
regarded as the concern of alienists, to be noticed only as it becomes disturb- 

Introduction n 

ing. Out of fear and misunderstanding we incline to minimize it or to 
disregard it altogether, when we can. 

The usual response of intelligent minds confronted with it is beautifully 
defined in the words of Marlow, Conrad's narrator in Lord Jim, who is 
speaking of a scene of horror: "It had the power to drive me out of my con- 
ception of existence, out of that shelter each of us makes for himself to creep 
under in moments of danger, as a tortoise withdraws within its shell. For a 
moment I had a view of a world that seemed to wear a vast and dismal 
aspect of disorder, while, in truth, thanks to our unwearied efforts, it is as 
sunny an arrangement of small conveniences as the mind of man can con- 
ceive. But still it was only a moment: I went bac\ into my shell directly. 
One must don't you \now? though I seemed to have lost all my words 
in the chaos of dar\ thoughts 1 had contemplated for a second or two be- 
yond the pale. These came bac\, too, very soon, for words also belong to the 
sheltering conception of light and order which is our refuge!' 

That preverbal experience, in which one loses one's words, opens upon 
an enormous range and variety of activity. Hypnosis and other procedures 
such as automatic writing reveal to some degree the richness of what has 
been called the depths of the mind, in which apparently all the experience 
of the organism is in some way retained, even an incalculable multitude of 
experiences that never reach the threshold of awareness at alL This great 
psychic reservoir is not static li\e a letter file, or still li\e a pond. Ceria's 
changes evidently go on in it continually. 'Everyone %nows from experience 
how a memory may alter, not merely jading but suffering distortion. 
Dreams are another evidence of unconscious developments. 

All psychic life is activity, for even the maintenance of the established 
patterns is a reactivation, with inevitable variations of content and empha- 
sis. But in the unconscious psyche and on the fringes of consciousness, 
change is easier because there the compulsive and inhibiting effect of system 
sustained by will and attention is decreased or ceases altogether. Though 
the system does not dissolve into nothing, it decreases in importance, be- 
comes only an element in the unconscious psychic life, which might there- 
fore be called the nonschematic in contrast to the conscious, which is 
dominated by system. The term "nonschematic" is suitable, further, for the 
unconscious and fringe activity, because much of it is so lacking in apparent 
organization that it seems altogether chaotic. A great many of the configura- 
tions that do appear in the fringes of consciousness are continually shifting 
because no sign has been found to impose on them the fixed status of a 
scheme. They slide out of consciousness li\e the nameless configurations of 
the rocking ocean. No wonder the image most often chosen for the deeper 
psychic life is the sea at night. 

The image is used among others by John Livingston Lowes in evoking 

12 The Creative Process 

for the readers of The Road to Xanadu his sense of the enormous activity 
out of which the poems of Coleridge were crystallized: "I have left two- 
thirds of the mass of entries in the Note Boof^ completely untouched. But 
the whole could not ma\e clearer one fact of profound significance for us. 
For there, in those bizarre pages, we catch glimpses of the strange and fan- 
tastic shapes which haunted the hinterland of Coleridge's brain. Most of 
them never escaped from their confined into the light of day. Some did, 
trailing clouds of glory as they came. But those which did not, li\e the stars 
of the old astrology, rained none the less their secret influence on nearly 
everything that Coleridge wrote in his creative prime. 'The Rime of the An- 
cient Mariner,' ' ChristabeV, 'Kubla Khan' "The Wanderings of Cain' are 
what they are because they are all subdued to the hues of that heaving and 
phosphorescent sea below the verge of consciousness from which they have 
emerged. No single fragment of concrete reality in the array before us is in 
itself of such far-reaching import as is the sense of that hovering cloud of 
shadowy presences. For what the teeming chaos of the Note Eoo\ gives us 
is the charged and electrical atmospheric background of a poet's mind." 

Some of Lowes terms are strikingly li\e those used by Dr. R. W. Gerard 
in describing the nervous system, which he depicts as a fluid whole, a con- 
tinual alteration of flowing electrical patterns: "Now, with our discovery of 
a far more fluid nervous system, one unceasingly active and with neural and 
electrical messages riffling the whole into dynamic patterns, which flow 
from one contour to another as present influences play upon the condition 
left by past ones with such a picture the arrival of new neural relationships 
is no great problem!' 

It is perhaps hard to see how there should be any fixity at all in so fluid a 
medium. Yet the fact is that there is a great deal of stability, so much that 
often it interferes with life. It may be that the threat of dissolution is so great 
that men have developed their conservatism as a necessary guard against 
the dispersal of the order they live by. Whatever the cause, the tendency to 
distrust the widest and freest ranging of the mind is so strong that the 
changes necessary for the development of human life could not be attained 
without the efforts of the more daring and ingenious of mankind. 

The creative process is not only the concern of specialists, however; it is 
not limited to the arts and to thought, but is as wide as life. Or perhaps it 
would be more correct to say that invention in the arts and in thought is a 
part of the invention of life, and that this invention is essentially a single 
process. That view is made clear enough in Yeats' poem "Long-Legged 
Fly" which appears in this volume. The minds of the artist Michelangelo, 
of Caesar the man of action, and of the nameless girl whose movements are 
only the apparently trivial motions of life at play are seen to be all in the 
same condition: their minds move upon silence as the fly moves on the sur- 

Introduction 1 

face of a stream. They are brought into relation, that is to say, with the 
jreer and more plentiful activity which transcends that of the schematic 
consciousness, the awareness which can be put into words or formed into 
other systems of signs. They are enlarged. It would not be correct to say 
that they have yielded to darkness or disorder so long as they remain re- 
sponsive to the needs of life, to the pressures or tensions developing in the 
widened psychic activity in consequence of human interests and needs, in- 
cluding those interests and needs which are unsatisfied in the experience 
organized by current insight. They have yielded to a necessity inherent in 
their full psychic life. 

This self-surrender so familiar to creative minds is nearly always hard to 
achieve. It calls for a purity of motive that is rarely sustained except through 
dedication and discipline. Subordination of everything to the whole im- 
pulse of life is easier for the innocent and ignorant because they are not 
so fully aware of the hazards of it or are less impressed by them, and they 
are not so powerfully possessed by convention. When their life is strong in 
them they can sometimes surrender themselves to it without effort. But 
shortly the girl in Yeats' poem will notice that somebody is looking, and 
then, unless she is very willful and full of disastrous genius, she will sin\ 
into convention. 

Even when one has recognized the controlling center of life as lying out- 
side the ego and the preoccupations of conscious life and has learned to loo\ 
away from these, submitting to its guidance may be difficult. Some of the 
reasons why this is so need no further discussion. Much of the difficulty 
comes of the slightness and the often doubtful character of the means by 
which the guidance is asserted. The first intimations are lively to be em- 
bodied in apparently trivial things, objects or experiences that in our every- 
day life would seem to have little importance or none whatever. There are 
two clues to their real importance: first, the disproportionate or even wholly 
inexplicable satisfaction or excitement which they evo\e in the creative 
wor\er; and secondly, their power to open his mind inward upon the stir 
of its own unorganized riches. 

This is not to say that all that excites the mind in this way will lead di- 
rectly to creation. The desired new order implicit in the stir of indetermi- 
nate activity cannot be seized in the abstract: it must crystallize in terms of 
some medium in which the worker is adept. Without craft it will escape. 
The elements that intimate the way of vital development may or may not 
be included or emphasized in the crystallization. Almost certainly the New 
Zealand landscape that evoked a world for Katherine Mansfield found a 
smaller place in her expression than it would have assumed if she had been 
a painter. The crystallization may, moreover, be delayed even for a long 
time, or some accident or obstacle may 'preclude it. 

1 The Creative Process 

Yet though the exciting elements may not at first lead to any clear de- 
velopment, their whole aspect is of promise. Henry James describes the 
germinal trivia from which his stories developed as typically minute and 
superficially bare, but extraordinarily rich in their intimations of develop- 
ments to be revealed. The very slightness of such elements is a guard against 
their taking the focus of attention or forcing a finished pattern upon the 
mind. On the other hand, it has the disadvantage of making them elusive. 
One must learn to seize and hold them without insistence, letting them agi- 
tate the mind when and as they may and ma%e their own development, 
relinquishing them as they fade or fail of effect and taking up others to be 
cherished without attachment in the same way, shaping the expression of 
the growing insight critically that is, consciously and rationally, drawing 
upon all resources of craft and understanding in so far as that may be done 
without arresting spontaneous developments, always preserving the stir of 
the excited mind out of which the development issues. 

The concentration of such a state may be so extreme that the worker may 
seem to himself or others to be in a trance or some similar hypnotic or som- 
nambulistic state. But actually the state of so-called trance so often men- 
tioned as characteristic of the creative process or of stages in it differs 
markedly from ordinary trance or hypnosis, in its collectedness, its auton- 
omy, its extreme watchfulness. And it seems never to be directly induced. 
It appears rather to be generated indirectly, to subsist as the characteristic 
of a consciousness partly unfocused, attention diverted from the too-assertive 
contours of any particular scheme and dispersed upon an object without 
complete schematic representation. In short, the creative discipline when 
successful may generate a tranceli\e state, but one does not throw oneself 
into a trance in order to create. 

Even in those stages when willed and rational effort is dominant, the cre- 
ative process is essentially the delicate action of developed life. Trices, de- 
vices, drugs, or disciplines are useful to the inventor only in so far as they 
support that action or empower the organism that acts. The less the wor\er 
needs to depend on external things or circumstances the safer he is from 
disturbances and disabling accidents. The man who comes to depend on 
alcohol, or on paper of a specific size, or on some one favored environment 
in order to get his wor\ done has narrowed his freedom of action and he 
may be resorting to automatic controls or to magic instead of relying on his 
sfyll, ingenuity, and sensitiveness. It is best to avoid idiosyncrasy and to 
cultivate the central disciplines. 

Among the conditions to which every inventor must submit is the neces- 
sity for patience. The development desired may have to be waited for, even 
though its character has been clearly intimated. After the first suggestion 
which allows anticipation of anything at all, a long gestation may be re- 
Introduction 75 

quired. The need for such hidden organic development at some stage of the 
creative process appears to be universal. It may be completed before the first 
flash of suggestion that brings the creative development to attention, and 
the worker may then be able to go on without interruption to the conclusion 
of his wor\. William Blafe claimed that some of his poetry came without 
any apparent premeditation, as if dictated to him. But often some period of 
gestation must follow the first flash of insight. With A. E. Housman it was 
usually short: a poem ordinarily completed itself by stages within a few 
hours or days. But long or short, the gestation has to be endured. Bertrand 
Russell has remarked upon the fruitless effort he used to expend in trying 
to push his creative worJ^ to completion by sheer force of will before he dis- 
covered the necessity of waiting for it to flnd its own subconscious develop- 
ment. The reasonable attitude toward this sometimes embarrassing necessity 
is illustrated by a famous passage in Henry James 9 preface to his novel The 
American : "I was charmed with my idea, which would ta\e, however, much 
wording out; and precisely because it had so much to give, I thin\, must 
I have dropped it for the time into the deep well of unconscious cerebra- 
tion: not without the hope, doubtless, that it might eventually emerge from 
that reservoir, as one had already T^nown the buried treasure to come to 
light, with a firm iridescent surface and a notable increase of weight" 

Invention is easier when we learn willingly to submit to necessity, or 
even, life James*, to flnd real advantage in it. One can save oneself much 
trouble by recognizing the limitations of the will in creation. It is interest- 
ing to see how often it is repudiated as a primary instrument in much of 
the creative process by all \inds of artists and thinkers, from Picasso to John 
Dewey, a group so large and representative as to leave no doubt that agree- 
ment is general. Will belongs to the conscious life only. It is effective in 
attaining objects in view, but it cannot enable us to move in directions that 
have not yet been discovered. Will rather tends to arrest the undetermined 
development, by laying the emphasis of a heightened tension upon whatever 
is already in mind. When what is required is wor\ to be done on something 
already defined, such an emphasis is useful. And will is helpful therefore 
in many matters assisting the creative process. It may help the worker to 
stic\ to his discipline. It may sustain his effort to stay at his desJ^ or to 
leave it, for the relief of too concentrated attention or for the pursuit of in- 
citements to further spontaneous developments. Or it may ma\e firm his 
purpose to dismiss the man "from Porloc\" 

But even in such apparently conscious matters as organizing a novel or 
choosing a subject for research or for a poem; the will may do vital damage. 
In the introduction to her novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf describes 
how she was forced to abandon her attempts at a plan for the boo\ and to 
go forward without method or theory. Her difficulty arose from the fact 

16 The Creative Process 

that the form or plan of the novel as she \new it, was unsuitable for the 
expression of her impulse, which therefore was bound to be suppressed by 
the imposition upon its movements of the J(nown, conventional order, the 
only one that could be produced by willful labor. This is not to be taken as 
evidence that planning is detrimental, but only that plan must not be en- 
forced by will. Plan must come as a part of the organic development of a 
project, either before the details are determined, which is more convenient, 
or in the midst of their production, which is sometimes confusing. 

It is organic need, too, rather than will, that must determine the choice of 
a subject. Often in this matter will and need do not come into conflict. 
When they do there should be no question about submitting to the vital 
necessity. To select a subject against inclination and force the mind to elab- 
orate it is damaging and diminishing. The crux of the problem particularly 
as it exists in the arts is indicated by T. S. Eliot in his introduction to the 
Selected Poems of Marianne Moore: "For a mind of such agility, and for a 
sensibility so reticent, the minor subject, such as a pleasant little sand- 
coloured sapping animal, may be the best release for the major emotions. 
Only the pedantic literalist could consider the subject-matter to be trivial; 
the triviality is in himself. We all have to choose whatever subject-matter 
allows us the most powerful and most secret release; and that is a personal 

But by no means all the creative process is primarily a spontaneous de- 
velopment. Two important stages in it are predominantly conscious and 
critical, and in these the will properly functions. It is of use in that prelimi- 
nary labor, or sometimes less burdensome preparation, without which there 
can be no significant creative activity, and in the wor]^ of verification, cor- 
rection, or revision that ordinarily follows the more radical inventive ac- 
tivity and completes or refines its product. 

A great deal of the wor\ necessary to equip and activate the mind for the 
spontaneous part of invention must be done consciously and with an effort 
of will. Mastering accumulated knowledge, gathering new facts, observing, 
exploring, experimenting, developing technique and sl^ill, sensibility, and 
discrimination, are all more or less conscious and voluntary activities. The 
sheer labor of preparing technically for creative worJ^, consciously acquiring 
the requisite knowledge of a medium and s\itt in its use, is extensive and 
arduous enough to repel many from achievement. 

Creative workers reporting their processes of production often inadvert- 
ently conceal the amount of conscious and voluntary wor\ by their failure 
to stress it or to consider it in much detail, probably because so much of it 
belongs primarily or even entirely to the special disciplines of the worker's 
field and if thought of as wholly a matter of craft or technic. It is true that 
some technical operations are nothing more than that, since they are deter- 

Introduction i 

mined purely by the intrinsic nature of the medium. An example is the 
rejection of the words "orange" or "month" as rime words in a strictly con- 
ventional sonnet because there are no exact rimes for them in English. But 
if f on the other hand, these words were rejected because as approximate or 
slant rimes, paired, say, with "forage" and "thump" they would form dis- 
sonances destructive of some creative end in view, the process would not 
be merely technical, though technique would be largely involved. Manage- 
ment of the medium becomes more complex, and the technical processes 
merge indissolubly with the creative process, as soon as the use of substances 
and forms begins to be guided by a sense of their sufficiency or insufficiency 
in formulating insights and attitudes. Though the technical component of 
such wor\ remains ponderable in itself, it is not completely understandable 
except as a part of the creative process. And all of it that is not spontaneous, 
ordinarily a great deal, is part of the conscious and voluntary labor of the 
creative process. 

In a different way, we are led to underestimate the labor of invention by 
the appearance of the finished product. Freed of every irrelevance^ espe- 
dally the sweat and litter of the workroom, the wor\ of thought or art or 
ritual stands as the simple formula of a subjective action. The impression 
it gives of unlabored force is not to be trusted. There are no certain grounds 
for disbelieving in the difficulty of any process of invention. Every genu- 
inely creative worker must attain in one way or another such full under- 
standing of his medium and such s\ill, ingenuity, and flexibility in handling 
it that he can ma\e fresh use of it to construct a device which, when used 
skillfully by others, will organize their experience in the way that his own 
experience was organized in the moment of expanded insight. Among the 
users of his device may be the inventor himself, who may recover the con- 
figurations of his insight in this way, though not the full activity out of 
which they were crystallized. His device may even fail to remind him of 
his labor. All finished productions have the simplicity of order, which re- 
veals itself rather than its origins. 

Even the most energetic and original mind, in order to reorganize or 
extend human insight in any valuable way, must have attained more than 
ordinary mastery of the field in which it is to act, a strong sense of what 
needs to be done, and styll in the appropriate means of expression. It seems 
certain that no significant expansion of insight can be produced otherwise, 
whether the activity is thought of as wor^ or not. Often an untutored beauty 
appears in the drawings of children, and we rightly prize the best of them 
because they have wholeness of motive, but they have scarcely the power to 
open the future to us. For that, the artist must labor to the limit of human 
development and then ta\e a step beyond. The same is true for every sort of 
creative worker. 

18 The Creative Process 

That step beyond is stimulated by labor upon the limits of attainment. 
The secret developments that we call unconscious because they complete 
themselves without our knowledge and the other spontaneous activities that 
go forward without foresight yet in full consciousness are induced and fo- 
cused by intense conscious effort spent upon the material to be developed or 
in the area to be illuminated. Though the tension of conscious striving tends 
to overdetermine psychic activity, to narrow and fix it, such tension gives 
stimulation and direction to the unconscious activity which goes on after 
the tension is released. The desired developments are usually delayed for 
some time, during which presumably something li%e incubation is going on 
and attention may be profitably turned to something else. Then without 
warning the solution or the germinal insight may appear. This was th$ 
usual experience of Henri Poincare and of many others. But though "in- 
spiration" may be produced by such conscious labors, by what Katherine 
Mansfield called "terrific hard gardening" the procedure is not always suc- 
cessful; problems may remain unsolved, insights undeveloped, no matter 
how much effort is given to them. Nor is there always even when the pro- 
cedure is successful a notable amount of unconscious development. Long 
periods of alternating conscious and unconscious activity may be required. 
When the process is an agonizing, fumbling search, as it was for Thomas 
Wolfe, some morbid condition may be suspected, such as the hypermnesia 
which seems to have afflicted him with an assaulting torrent of recalled 

The unsearchable insight which we call inspiration is sometimes given 
wholly at one strode. Poincare indicates that for him it was. Henry James 
reports a somewhat similar experience in writing The Ambassadors. Others, 
li%e Stephen Spender, begin in considerable uncertainty and find successive 
clarifications in a sort of continuing inspiration as they go on with their 
conscious wor\. This happens with many workers in the arts. Van Gogh 
and Kuniyoshi tell of making many paintings of the same object in order 
to develop and refine the insight expressed in representing it. D. H. Law- 
rence is reported to have written Lady Chatterley's Lover three times. This 
process of rewording is very close to revision, but since it involves repeating 
virtually the whole process of production it appears more lively to preserve 
the spontaneous character of the initial attempt. Revision need not lac\ 
spontaneity, however, and there would be little use in it if it did. It is hard 
to say whether when Allen Tate added his "wind-leaves refrain" to his "Ode 
to the Confederate Dead" nearly five years after the first draft of the poem- 
was made, he was continuing the composition of the poem or revising it. 
Under such circumstances the distinction becomes unreal; the two processes 

Although the wor\ that tests, refines, and consolidates what is attained in 

Introduction 19 

moments of inspiration is not likely to be, in the arts at least, all conscious 
calculation, it is largely so. Its object, both in art and in intellectual inven- 
tion, is to ma%e sure that the product is really serviceable. A worJ^ may seem 
valuable to its creator because of his sense of stirring life and fresh signifi- 
cance while he was producing it. After that excitement is dissipated, its in- 
trinsic value is its only relevant one even to himself. He must find out if it 
will serve to organize experience in a fresh and full and useful way. To that 
end he tests it critically. If he finds it is not sound and complete, he may be 
able to ma\e it so, either by conscious craft or consciously directed research 
or by a fresh exercise of his whole power to which he has been urged by a 
critical consciousness of his need. Or he may have to reject the wor\ because 
he finds it fundamentally wrong or hopelessly vapid, or simply because he is 
unable to bring to it the necessary spontaneous worJ^ to complete it. Shelley, 
who found his inspiration declining as soon as he began to compose, and 
who considered the products of revision lifeless stopgaps, left many frag- 

There is much lore about the creative process that I have not discussed. 
Some of it is useful, some not. Whether found gathered into boo\s, as much 
of it is, or as scattered items, this material should not be approached as a 
body of fragments to be tested experimentally for their value in practical 
guidance and accepted or rejected as they are found useful or not. The cau- 
tion holds even for the more highly organized material of the following 
essays, letters, and poems. Some of this material is conflicting. Part of it may 
have been shaped by individual limitations of the writers. Its authority can- 
not be regarded as absolute. It is more manageable and meaningful when 
understood in terms of the general principles by which it should also be 
tested, and which in turn it should test and illustrate. 

Practical guidance can often be deduced from the general principles alone. 
Most writers find it easier to wor\ in the morning as one should expect, 
since then the mind has not been so much incited from without, focused, 
and fixed. John Peale Bishop recommended going as soon as possible from 
sleep to the writing des\. On the other hand, A. E. Housman wrote his 
poems mostly in the afternoon. Others have preferred to do their worj^ at 
night. How shall we turn such information to guidance unless we under- 
stand that the time for wor^ should be that time when the excited mind 
moves most free of the encumbrance of its consciously supported order? If 
we cannot because of circumstances choose the best time, we may be able 
to help ourselves through reducing the schematic fixation that interferes 
with production. Similar considerations govern our treatment of the prob- 
lem of inciting unconscious wor\ t or any other problem. 

I have emphasized the value of understanding, discipline, and hard worf^ 
in the creative process. High and sustained achievement demands even 

20 The Creative Process 

more, the concentration of a life. And even that is not all. In the absence of 
fresh insight, devotion is powerless, and the best technique is meaningless, 
since it can only repeat mechanically. Invention may be precluded by a 
distrust of deviation. Every new and good thing is liable to seem eccentric 
and perhaps dangerous at first glimpse, perhaps more than what is really 
eccentric, really irrelevant to life. And therefore we must always listen to 
the voice of eccentricity, within ourselves and in the world. The alien, the 
dangerous, life the negligible near thing, may seem irrelevant to purpose 
and yet be the call to our own fruitful development. This does not mean 
that we should surrender to whatever novelty is brought to attention. It does 
mean that we must practice to some extent an imaginative surrender to 
every novelty that has even the most tenuous credentials. Because life is 
larger than any of its expressions, it must sometimes do violence to the 
forms it has created. We must expect to live the orderly ways we have in- 
vented continually conscious of the imminence of change. 

Introduction 21 

Henri Poincart : MATHEMATICAL 



HE GENESIS of mathematical creation is a problem which should intensely 
interest the psychologist. It is the activity in which the human mind seems 
to take least from the outside world, in which it acts or seems to act only of 
itself and on itself, so that in studying the procedure of geometric thought 
we may hope to reach what is most essential in man's mind. 

This has long been appreciated, and some time back the journal called 
L'Enseignement Mathematique, edited by Laisant and Fehr, began an in- 
vestigation of the mental habits and methods of work of different mathe- 
maticians. I had finished the main outlines of this article when the results 
of that inquiry were published, so I have hardly been able to utilize them 
and shall confine myself to saying that the majority of witnesses confirm 
my conclusions; I do not say all, for when the appeal is to universal suffrage 
unanimity is not to be hoped. 

A first fact should surprise us, or rather would surprise us if we were not 
so used to it. How does it happen there are people who do not understand 
mathematics? If mathematics invokes only the rules of logic, such as are 
accepted by all normal minds; if its evidence is based on principles common 

22 The Creative Process 

to all men, and that none could deny without being mad, how does it come 
about that so many persons are here refractory? 

That not every one can invent is nowise mysterious. That not every one 
can retain a demonstration once learned may also pass. But that not every 
one can understand mathematical reasoning when explained appears very 
surprising when we think of it. And yet those who can follow this reason- 
ing only with difficulty are in the majority: that is undeniable, and will 
surely not be gainsaid by the experience of secondary-school teachers. 

And further: how is error possible in mathematics? A sane mind should 
not be guilty of a logical fallacy, and yet there are very fine minds who do 
not trip in brief reasoning such as occurs in the ordinary doings of life, and 
who are incapable of following or repeating without error the mathematical 
demonstrations which are longer, but which after all are only an accumu- 
lation of brief reasonings wholly analogous to those they make so easily. 
Need we add that mathematicians themselves are not infallible? 

The answer seems to me evident. Imagine a long series of syllogisms, and 
that the conclusions of the first serve as premises of the following: we shall 
be able to catch each of these syllogisms, and it is not in passing from prem- 
ises to conclusion that we are in danger of deceiving ourselves. But between 
the moment in which we first meet a proposition as conclusion of one syl- 
logism, and that in which we reencounter it as premise of another syllogism 
occasionally some time will elapse, several links of the chain will have un- 
rolled; so it may happen that we have forgotten it, or worse, that we have 
forgotten its meaning. So it may happen that we replace it by a slightly 
different proposition, or that, while retaining the same enunciation, we 
attribute to it a slightly different meaning, and thus it is that we are exposed 
to error. 

Often the mathematician uses a rule. Naturally he begins by demonstrat- 
ing this rule; and at the time when this proof is fresh in his memory he 
understands perfectly its meaning and its bearing, and he is in no danger 
of changing it. But subsequently he trusts his memory and afterward only 
applies it in a mechanical way; and then if his memory fails him, he may 
apply it all wrong. Thus it is, to take a simple example, that we sometimes 
make slips in calculation because we have forgotten our multiplication table. 

According to this, the special aptitude for mathematics would be due only 
to a very sure memory or to a prodigious force of attention. It would be a 
power like that of the whist-player who remembers the cards played; or, to 
go up a step, like that of the chess-player who can visualize a great number 
of combinations and hold them in his memory. Every good mathematician 
ought to be a good chess-player, and inversely; likewise he should be a good 
computer. Of course that sometimes happens; thus Gauss was at the same 
time a geometer of genius and a very precocious and accurate computer. 

Henri Poincart 23 

But there are exceptions; or rather I err; I can not call them exceptions 
without the exceptions being more than the rule. Gauss it is, on the con- 
trary, who was an exception. As for myself, I must confess, I am absolutely 
incapable even of adding without mistakes. In the same way I should be 
but a poor chess-player; I would perceive that by a certain play I should 
expose myself to a certain danger; I would pass in review several other 
plays, rejecting them for other reasons, and then finally I should make the 
move first examined, having meantime forgotten the danger I had foreseen. 

In a word, my memory is not bad, but it would be insufficient to make me 
a good chess-player. Why then does it not fail me in a difficult piece of 
mathematical reasoning where most chess-players would lose themselves ? 
Evidently because it is guided by the general march of the reasoning. A 
mathematical demonstration is not a simple juxtaposition of syllogisms, it 
is syllogisms placed in a certain order, and the order in which these elements 
are placed is much more important than the elements themselves. If I have 
the feeling, the intuition, so to speak, of this order, so as to perceive at a 
glance the reasoning as a whole, I need no longer fear lest I forget one of 
the elements, for each of them will take its allotted place in the array, and 
that without any effort of memory on my part. 

It seems to me then, in repeating a reasoning learned, that I could have 
invented it. This is often only an illusion; but even then, even if I am not 
so gifted as to create it by myself, I myself re-invent it in so far as I repeat it. 

We know that this feeling, this intuition of mathematical order, that 
k *makes us divine hidden harmonies and relations, can not be possessed by 
every one. Some will not have either this delicate feeling so difficult to de- 
fine, or a strength of memory and attention beyond the ordinary, and then 
they will be absolutely incapable of understanding higher mathematics. 
Such are the majority. Others will have this feeling only in a slight degree, 
but they will be gifted with an uncommon memory and a great power of 
attention. They will learn by heart the details one after another; they can 
understand mathematics and sometimes make applications, but they can- 
not create. Others, finally, will possess in a less or greater degree the special 
intuition referred to, and then not only can they understand mathematics 
even if their memory is nothing extraordinary, but they may become cre- 
ators and try to invent with more or less success according as this intuition 
is more or less developed in them. 

"*""* In fact, what is mathematical creation ? It does not consist in making new 
combinations with mathematical entities already known. Any one could do 
that, but the combinations so made would be infinite in number and most 
of them absolutely without interest. To create consists precisely in not mak- 
ing useless combinations and in making those which are useful and which 
are only a small minority. Invention is discernment, choice, 

24 The Creative Process 

How to make this choice I have before explained; the mathematical facts 
worthy of being studied are those which, by their analogy with other facts, 
are capable of leading us to the knowledge of a mathematical law just as 
experimental facts lead us to the knowledge of a physical law. They are 
those which reveal to us unsuspected kinship between other facts, long 
known, but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another. 

Among chosen combinations the most fertile will often be those formed 
of elements drawn from domains which are far apart. Not that I mean as 
sufficing for invention the bringing together of objects as disparate as pos- 
sible; most combinations so formed would be entirely sterile. But certain 
among them, very rare, are the most fruitful of all. 

To invent, I have said, is to choose; but the word is perhaps not wholly 
exact. It makes one think of a purchaser before whom are displayed a large 
number of samples, and who examines them, one after the other, to make a 
choice. Here the samples would be so numerous that a whole lifetime would 
not suffice to examine them. This is not the actual state of things. The sterile 
combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the inventor. 
Never in the field of his consciousness do combinations appear that are not 
really useful, except some that he rejects but which have to some extent the 
characteristics of useful combinations. All goes on as if the inventor were 
an examiner for the second degree who would only have to question the 
candidates who had passed a previous examination. 

But what I have hitherto said is what may be observed or inferred in 
reading the writings of the geometers, reading reflectively. 

It is time to penetrate deeper and to see what goes on in the very soul of 
the mathematician. For this, I believe, I can do best by recalling memories 
of my own. But I shall limit myself to telling how I wrote my first memoir 
on Fuchsian functions. I beg the reader's pardon; I am about to use some 
technical expressions, but they need not frighten him, for he is not obliged 
to understand them. I shall say, for example, that I have found the demon- 
stration of such a theorem under such circumstances. This theorem will 
have a barbarous name, unfamiliar to many, but that is unimportant; what 
s of interest for the psychologist is not the theorem but the circumstances. 
""Tor fifteen days I strove to prove that there could not be any functions 
ike those I have since called Fuchsian functions. I was then very ignorant; 
ivery day I seated myself at my work table, stayed an hour or two, tried a 
great number of combinations and reached no results. One evening, con- 
trary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in 
crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a 
stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of 
a class of Fuchsian functions, those which come from the hypergeometric 
series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours. 

Henri Poincart 25 

Then I wanted to represent these functions by the quotient o two series; 
this idea was perfectly conscious and deliberate, the analogy with elliptic 
functions guided me. I asked myself what properties these series must have 
if they existed, and I succeeded without difficulty in forming the series I 
have called theta-Fuchsian. 

Just at this time I left Caen, where I was then living, to go on a geologic 
excursion under the auspices of the school of mines. The changes of travel 
made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we 
entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put 
my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former 
thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations 
I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of 
non-Euclidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had 
time, as, upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation 
already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, 
for conscience' sake I verified the result at my leisure. 

Then I turned my attention to the study of some arithmetical questions 
apparently without much success and without a suspicion of any connec- 
tion with my preceding researches. Disgusted with my failure, I went to 
spend a few days at the seaside, and thought of something else. One morn- 
ing, walking on the bluff, the idea came to me, with just the same charac- 
teristics of brevity, suddenness and immediate certainty, that the arithmetic 
transformations of indeterminate ternary quadratic forms were identical 
with those of non-Euclidean geometry. 

Returned to Caen, I meditated on this result and deduced the conse- 
quences. The example of quadratic forms showed me that there were Fuch- 
sian groups other than those corresponding to the hypergeometric series; 
I saw that I could apply to them the theory of theta-Fuchsian series and that 
consequently there existed Fuchsian functions other than those from the 
hypergeometric series, the ones I then knew. Naturally I set myself to form 
all these functions. I made a systematic attack upon them and carried all 
the outworks, one after another. There was one however that still held out, 
whose fall would involve that of the whole place. But all my efforts only 
served at first the better to show me the difficulty, which indeed was some- 
thing. All this work was perfectly conscious. 

Thereupon I left for Mont-Valerien, where I was to go through my mili- 
tary service; so I was very differently occupied. One day, going along the 
street, the solution of the difficulty which had stopped me suddenly ap- 
peared to me. I did not try to go deep into it immediately, and only after 
my service did I again take up the question. I had all the elements and had 
only to arrange them and put them together. So I wrote out my final memoir 
at a ingle stroke and without difficulty. 

26 The Creative Process 

I shall limit myself to this single example; it is useless to multiply them. 
In regard to my other researches I would have to say analogous things, and 
the observations of other mathematicians given in L'Enseignement Mathe- 
matique would only confirm them. 

Most striking at first is this appearance of sudden illumination, a mani- 
fest sign of long, unconscious prior work. The role of this unconscious 
work in mathematical invention appears to me incontestable, and traces 
of it would be found in other cases where it is less evident. Often when one 
works at a hard question, nothing good is accomplished at the first attack. 
Then one takes a rest, longer or shorter, and sits down anew to the work. 
During the first half-hour, as before, nothing is found, and then all of a 
sudden the decisive idea presents itself to the mind. It might be said that 
the conscious work has been more fruitful because it has been interrupted 
and the rest has given back to the mind its force and freshness. But it is 
more probable that this rest has been filled out with unconscious work and 
that the result of this work has afterward revealed itself to the geometer 
just as in the cases I have cited; only the revelation, instead of coming dur- 
ing a walk or a journey, has happened during a period of conscious work, 
but independently of this work which plays at most a role of excitant, as 
if it were the goad stimulating the results already reached during rest, but 
remaining unconscious, to assume the, conscious form. 

There is another remark to be made about the conditions of this uncon- 
scious work: it is possible, and of a certainty it is only fruitful, if it is on 
the one hand preceded and on the other hand followed by a period of con- 
scious work. These sudden inspirations {and the examples already cited 
sufficiently prove this) never happen except after some days of voluntary 
effort which has appeared absolutely fruitless and whence nothing good 
seems to have come, where the way taken seems totally astray. These efforts 
then have not been as sterile as one thinks; they have set agoing the uncon- 
scious machine and without them it would not have moved and would have 
produced nothing. 

LTl|e need for the second period of conscious work, after the inspiration, 
is still easier to understand. It is necessary to put in shape the results of this 
inspiration, to deduce from them the immediate consequences, to arrange 
them, to word the demonstrations, but above all is verification necessary .jl 
have spoken of the feeling o absolute certitude accompanying the inspira- 
tion;! in the cases cited this feeling was no deceiver, nor is it usually. But 
dolrot think this is a rule without exception; often this feeling deceives us 
without being any the less vivid, and we only find it out when we seek to 
put on foot the demonstration.jljtiave especially noticed this fact in regard 
to ideas coming to me in the morning or evening in bed while in a semi- 
hypnagogic state. J 

Henri Poincart 27 

Such are the realities; now for the thoughts they force upon us. The un- 
conscious, or, as we say, the subliminal self plays an important role in 
mathematical creation; this follows from what we have said. But usually 
the subliminal self is considered as purely automatic. Now we have seen 
that mathematical work is not simply mechanical, that it could not be done 
by a machine, however perfect. It is not merely a question of applying 
rules, of making the most combinations possible according to certain fixed 
laws. The combinations so obtained would be exceedingly numerous, use- 
less and cumbersome. The true work of the inventor consists in choosing 
among these combinations so as to eliminate the useless ones or rather to 
avoid the trouble of making them, and the rules which must guide this 
choice are extremely fine and delicate. It is almost impossible to state them 
precisely; they are felt rather than formulated. Under these conditions, how 
imagine a sieve capable of applying them mechanically ? 

A first hypothesis now presents itself: the subliminal self is in no way 
inferior to the conscious self; it is not purely automatic; it is capable of 
discernment; it has tact, delicacy; it knows how to choose, to divine. What 
do I say? It knows better how to divine than the conscious self, since it 
succeeds where that has failed. In a word, is not the subliminal self superior 
to the conscious self? You recognize the full importance of this question. 
Boutroux in a recent lecture has shown how it came up on a very different 
occasion, and what consequences would follow an affirmative answer. 

Is this affirmative answer forced upon us by the facts I have just given? 
I confess that, for my part, I should hate to accept it. Reexamine the facts 
then and see if they are not compatible with another explanation. 

It is certain that the combinations which present themselves to the mind 
in a sort of sudden illumination, after an unconscious working somewhat 
prolonged, are generally useful and fertile combinations, which seem the 
result of a first impression. Does it follow that the subliminal self, having 
divined by a delicate intuition that these combinations would be useful, has 
formed only these, or has it rather formed many others which were lacking 
in interest and have remained unconscious? 

In this second way o looking at it, all the combinations would be formed 
in consequence of the automatism of the subliminal self, but only the inter- 
esting ones would break into the domain of consciousness. And this is still 
very mysterious. What is the cause that, among the thousand products of 
our unconscious activity, some are called tfo pass the threshold, while others 
remain below? Is it a simple chance which confers this privilege? Evidently 
not; among all the stimuli of our senses, for example, only the most intense 
fix our attention, unless it has been drawn to them by other causes. More 
generally the privileged unconscious phenomena, those susceptible of be- 

28 The Creative Process 

coining conscious, are those which, directly or indirectly, affect most pro- 
foundly our emotional sensibility. 

It may be surprising to see emotional sensibility invoked a propos of 
mathematical demonstrations which, it would seem, can interest only the 
intellect. This would be to forget the feeling of mathematical beauty, of the 
harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. This is a true esthe- 
tic feeling that all real mathematicians know, and surely it belongs to 
emotional sensibility. 

Now, what are the mathematic entities to which we attribute this char- 
acter of beauty and elegance, and which are capable of developing in us a 
sort of esthetic emotion ? They are those whose elements are harmoniously 
disposed so that the mind without effort can embrace their totality while 
realizing the details. This harmony is at once a satisfaction of our esthetic 
needs and an aid to the mind, sustaining and guiding. And at the same 
time, in putting under our eyes a well-ordered whole, it makes us foresee 
a mathematical law. Now, as we have said above, the only mathematical 
facts worthy of fixing our attention and capable of being useful are those 
which can teach us a mathematical law. So that we reach the following con- 
clusion: The useful combinations are precisely the most beautiful, I mean 
those best able to charm this special sensibility that all mathematicians 
know, but of which the profane are so ignorant as often to be tempted to 
smile at it. 

What happens then ? Among the great numbers of combinations blindly 
formed by the subliminal self, almost all are without interest and without 
utility; but just for that reason they are also without effect upon the esthetic 
sensibility. Consciousness will never know them; only certain ones are har- 
iponious, and, consequently, at once useful and beautiful. They will be 
capable of touching this special sensibility of the geometer of which I have 
just spoken, and which, once aroused, will call our attention to them, and 
thus give them occasion to become conscious. 

This is only a hypothesis, and yet here is an observation which may con- 
firm it: when a sudden illumination seizes upon the mind of the mathema- 
tician, it usually happens that it does not deceive him, but it also sometimes 
happens, as I have said, that it does not stand the test of verification; well, 
we almost always notice that this false idea, had it been true, would have 
gratified our natural feeling for mathematical elegance. 

Thus it is this special esthetic sensibility which plays the r61e of the deli- 
cate sieve of which I spoke, and that sufficiently explains why the one lack- 
ing it will never be a real creator. 

Yet all the difficulties have not disappeared. The conscious self is nar- 
rowly limited, and as for the subliminal self we know not its limitations, 
and this is why we are not too reluctant in supposing that it has been able 

Henri Poincare 29 

in a short time to make more different combinations than the whole life 
of a conscious being could encompass. Yet these limitations exist. Is it likely 
that it is able to form all the possible combinations, whose number would 
frighten the imagination? Nevertheless that would seem necessary, be- 
cause if it produces only a small part of these combinations, and if it makes 
them at random, there would be small chance that the good, the one we 
should choose, would be found among them. 

Perhaps we ought to seek the explanation in that preliminary period of 
conscious work which always precedes all fruitful unconscious labor. Per- 
mit me a rough comparison. Figure the future elements of our combinations 
as something like the hooked atoms of Epicurus. During the complete re- 
pose of the mind, these atoms are motionless, they are, so to speak, hooked to 
the wall; so this complete rest may be indefinitely prolonged without the 
atoms meeting, and consequently without any combination between them. 

On the other hand, during a period of apparent rest and unconscious 
work, certain of them are detached from the wall and put in motion. They 
flash in every direction through the space .(I was about to say the room) 
where they are enclosed, as would, for example, a swarm of gnats or, if you 
prefer a more learned comparison, like the molecules of gas in the kinematic 
theory of gases. Then their mutual impacts may produce new combinations. 

What is the role of the preliminary conscious work? It is evidently to 
mobilize certain of these atoms, to unhook them from the wall and put 
them in swing. We think we have done no good, because we have moved 
these elements a thousand different ways in seeking to assemble them, and 
have found no satisfactory aggregate. But, after this shaking up imposed 
upon them by our will, these atoms do not return to their primitive rest. 
They freely continue their dance. 

Now, our will did not choose them at random; it pursued a perfectly 
determined aim. The mobilized atoms are therefore not any atoms what- 
soever; they are those from which we might reasonably expect the desired 
solution. Then the mobilized atoms undergo impacts which make them 
enter into combinations among themselves or with other atoms at rest 
which they struck against in their course. Again I beg pardon, my com- 
parison is very rough, but I scarcely know how otherwise to make my 
thought understood. 

However it may be, the only combinations that have a chance of forming 
are those where at least one of the elements is one of those atoms freely 
chosen by our will. Now, it is evidently among these that is found what I 
called the good combination. Perhaps this is a way of lessening the para- 
doxical in the original hypothesis. 

Another observation. It never happens that the unconscious work gives 
us the result of a somewhat long calculation all made, where we have only 

30 The Creative Process 

to apply fixed rules. We might think the wholly automatic subliminal self 
particularly apt for this sort of work, which is in a way exclusively mechani- 
cal. It seems that thinking in the evening upon the factors of a multiplica- 
tion we might hope to find the product ready made upon our awakening, 
or again that an algebraic calculation, for example a verification, would be 
made unconsciously. Nothing of the sort, as observation proves. All one 
may hope from these inspirations, fruits of unconscious work, is a point 
of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they 
must be made in the second period of conscious work, that which follows 
the inspiration, that in which one verifies the results of this inspiration and 
deduces their consequences. The rules of these calculations are strict and 
complicated. They require discipline, attention, will, and therefore con- 
sciousness. In the subliminal self, on the contrary, reigns what I should 
call liberty, if we might give this name to the simple absence of discipline 
and to the disorder born of chance. Only, this disorder itself permits un- 
expected combinations. 

I shall make a last remark: when above I made certain personal observa- 
tions, I spoke of a night of excitement when I worked in spite of myself. 
Such cases are frequent, and it is not necessary that the abnormal cerebral 
activity be caused by a physical excitant as in that I mentioned. It seems, in 
such cases, that one is present at his own unconscious work, made partially 
perceptible to the over-excited consciousness, yet without having changed 
its nature. Then we vaguely comprehend what distinguishes the two mech- 
anisms or, if you wish, the working methods of the two egos. And the psy- 
chologic observations I have been able thus to make seem to me to confirm 
in their general outlines the views I have given. 

Surely they have need of it, for they are and remain in spite of all very 
hypothetical: the interest of the questions is so great that I do not repent 
of having submitted them to the reader. 

Translated by George Bruce Halsted 

From "Mathematical Creation," by Henri Poincare' in The Foundations of Science, translated 
by George Bruce Halsted. By permission of the publishers: The Science Press, Lancaster, Penn- 
sylvania, copyright 1915, reprinted 1921. First printed as "Le Raisonnement Mathe*matique" 
in Science et methode. By permission of the French publishers: Ernest Flammarion, 1908, Paris. 

Henri Poincare 31 

Albert Einstein : LETTER TO JACQUES 



In the following, I am trying to answer in brief your questions as well as 
I am able. I am not satisfied myself with those answers and I am willing 
to answer more questions if you believe this could be of any advantage for 
the very interesting and difficult work you have undertaken. 

(A) The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not 
seem, to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities 
which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or 
less clear images which can be "voluntarily" reproduced and combined. 

There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and rele- 
vant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logi- 
cally connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play 
with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological view- 
point, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive 
thought before there is any connection with logical construction in words 
or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others. 

yz The Creative Process 

(B) The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of 
muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for 
laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play 
is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will. 

(C) According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned ele- 
ments is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one is search- 
ing for. 

(D) Visual and motor. In a stage when words intervene at all, they are, 
in my case, purely auditive, but they interfere only in a secondary stage as 
already mentioned. 

(E) It seems to me that what you call full consciousness is a limit case 
which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with 
the fact called the narrowness of consciousness (Enge des Bewusstseins) . 

Remark : Professor Max Wertheimer has tried to investigate the distinc- 
tion between mere associating or combining of reproducible elements and 
between understanding (organisches Begreifen) ; I cannot judge how far 
his psychological analysis catches the essential point. 

With kind regards . . . 

Albert Einstein 

[Note by Jacques Hadamard] Questions (A), (B), (C) correspond to 
number 30 of the questionnaire issued by LEnseignement Mathematique: 
It would be very helpful for the purpose of psychological investigation to 
know what internal or mental images, what kind of "internal word" mathe- 
maticians make use of; whether they are motor, auditory, visual, or mixed, 
depending on the subject which they are studying. 

I have asked question (D) on the psychological type, not in research but 
in usual thought. 

Question >(E) corresponds to our number 31 : a. Especially in research 
thought, do the mental pictures or internal words present themselves in the 
full consciousness or in the fringe-consciousness (such as defined in Wallas's 
Art of Thought, pp. 51, 95 or under the name "antechamber of conscious- 
ness" in Galton's Inquiries into Human Faculty, p. 203 of the edition of 
1883; p. 146 of the edition of 1910) ? b. The same question is asked concern- 
ing the arguments which these mental pictures or words may symbolize. 

From "The Letter of Albert Einstein to M. Hadamard," in The Psychology of Invention in the 
Mathematical Field, by Jacques Hadamard. By permission of the publishers: Princeton Univer- 
sity Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 

Albert Einstein 

Wolf gang Amadeus Mozart : A LETTER 

I AM, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good 
cheer say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during 
the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow 
best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor 
can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am 
accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in 
this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, 
so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of 
counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, etc. 

All this foes my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject en- 
larges itself, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole, though it be 
long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey 
it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my 
imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once 
(gleich dies zusammen). What a delight this is I cannot tell! All this in- 

The authenticity of this letter remains in doubt 

34 The Creative Process 

venting, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream. Still the 
actual hearing of the tout ensemble is after all the best. What has been thus 
produced I do not easily forget, and this is perhaps the best gift I have my 
Divine Maker to thank for. 

When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my 
memory, if I may use that phrase, what has been previously collected into 
it in the way I have mentioned. For this reason the committing to paper 
is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished; 
and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination. At this 
occupation I can therefore suffer myself to be disturbed; for whatever may 
be going on around me, I write, and even talk, but only of fowls and geese, 
or of Gretel or Barbel, or some such matters. But why my productions take 
from my hand that particular form and style that makes them Mozartish, 
and different from the works of other composers, is probably owing to the 
same cause which renders my nose so large or so aquiline, or, in short, 
makes it Mozart's, and different from those of other people. For I really do 
not study or aim at any originality. 

From Lije of Mozart, by Edward Holmes (Everyman's Library). By permission of the pub- 
lishers: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London, and E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1912, New York City. 

Wolfgang Amad&us Mozart 35 

Roger Sessions : THE COMPOSER AND HIS 


HAVE TRIED to point out how intimately our musical impulses are con- 
nected with those primitive movements which are among the very condi- 
tions of our existence. I have tried to show, too, how vivid is our response to 
the primitive elements of musical movement. 

Is not this the key both to the content of music and to its extraordinary 
power? These bars from the prelude to Tristan do not express for us love 
or frustration or even longing: but they reproduce for us, both qualitatively 
and dynamically, certain gestures of the spirit which are to be sure less 
specifically definable than any of these emotions, but which energize them 
and make them vital to us. 

So it seems to me that this is the essence of musical expression. "Emotion" 
is specific, individual and conscious; music goes deeper than this, to the 
energies which animate our psychic life, and out of these creates a pattern 
which has an existence, laws, and human significance of its own. It repro- 
duces for us the most intimate essence, the tempo and the energy, of our 
spiritual being; our tranquility and our restlessness, our animation and our 

j6 The Creative Process 

discouragement, our vitality and our weakness all, in fact, of the fine 
shades of dynamic variation of our inner life. It reproduces these far more 
directly and more specifically than is possible through any other medium 
of human communication. 

In saying this I do not wish to deny that there is also an associative ele- 
ment in musical expression, or that this has its very definite place in certain 
types of music. It must be remembered that the emergence of music as an 
entirely separate art has been, as I have pointed out, of very recent origin; 
that until the last three hundred years it was always connected with more 
concrete symbols, whether of the word or the dance. It is but natural, there- 
fore, that this associative element should form a part of the composer's 
medium. It is, however, I believe, not an essential part, especially since it 
consists so largely in associations which have their basis in movement. Quiet, 
lightly contrasted movement, for instance, may be associated with outer as 
well as inner tranquility the light rustling of leaves in the wind, or the 
movement of a tranquil sea just as agitated movement may be employed 
to suggest the storms in nature, as well as the perturbations of the spirit. On 
the other hand, we meet with associations of a far less essential nature the 
tone of the trumpet, for instance, suggesting martial ideas, or certain local- 
isms folk songs, exotic scales, bizarre instrumental combinations, etc., 
which are used for the purposes of specific and literal coloring. But one 
would hardly attach more than a very superficial musical significance to 
associations of this type. They belong definitely in the sphere of applied art, 
and when they occur in works of serious import they serve, in conformity 
with an expressed intention of the composer, in a decidedly subordinate 
capacity, to direct the listener to more concrete associations than the music, 
in its essential content, can convey. 

The above considerations indicate why a certain type of literary rhap- 
sody seems to the musician quite amateurish and beside the point, in spite 
of the fact that musicians themselves even great ones have occasionally 
indulged in it. At best it is a literary production, bearing no real relation- 
ship to the music and throwing no real light on its content, but expressing 
the literary impulses of the author with more or less significance, according 
to his personality. Thus it is that of three distinguished commentators on 
Beethoven's Seventh Symphony all three of them composers, and two of 
them composers of genius one finds it a second Eroica, another a second 
Pastorale, and the third "the apotheosis of the dance." It must not be for- 
gotten that, for the composer, notes, chords, melodic intervals all the mu- 
sical materials are far more real, far more expressive, than words; that, 
let us say, a "leading tone" or a chord of the subdominant are for him not 
only notes, but sensations, full of meaning and capable of infinite nuances 
of modification; and that when he speaks or thinks in terms of them he is 

Roger Sessions yj 

using words which, however obscure and dry they may sound to the un- 
initiated, are for him fraught with dynamic sense. 

So, in trying to understand the work of the composer, one must first think 
of him as living in a world of sounds, which in response to his creative im- 
pulse become animated with movement. The first stage in his work is that 
of what is generally known by the somewhat shopworn and certainly un- 
scientific term "inspiration." The composer, to use popular language again, 
"has an idea" an idea, let me make clear, consisting of definite musical 
notes and rhythms, which will engender for him the momentum with 
which his musical thought proceeds. The inspiration may come in a flash, 
or as sometimes happens, it may grow and develop gradually. I have in my 
possession photostatic copies of several pages of Beethoven's sketches for 
the last movement of his "Hammerklavier Sonata"; the sketches show him 
carefully modelling, then testing in systematic and apparently cold-blooded 
fashion, the theme of the fugue. Where, one might ask, is the inspiration 
here? Yet if the word has any meaning at all, it is certainly appropriate to 
this movement, with its irresistible and titanic energy of expression, already 
present in the theme. The inspiration takes the form, however, not of a 
sudden flash of music, but a clearly envisaged impulse toward a certain goal 
for which the composer was obliged to strive. When this perfect realization 
was attained, however, there could have been no hesitation rather a flash 
of recognition that this was exactly what he wanted. 

Inspiration, then, is the impulse which sets creation in movement: it is 
also the energy which keeps it going. The composer's principal problem is 
that of recapturing it in every phase of his work; of bringing, in other words, 
the requisite amount of energy to bear on every detail, as well as, constantly, 
on his vision of the whole. 

This vision of the whole I should call the conception. For the musician 
this too takes the form of concrete musical materials perceived, however, 
not in detail but in foreshortened form. The experience, I believe, is quite 
different for the mature and experienced composer from what it is for the 
young beginner. As he grows in practice and imagination it assumes an 
ever more preponderant role, and appears more and more to be the essential 
act of creation. It differs from what I have described as "inspiration" only 
in works of large dimensions which cannot be realized in a short space of 
time. It arises out of the original inspiration, and is, so to speak, an exten- 
sion of its logic. 

What I have described as inspiration, embodies itself in what is the only 
true sense of the word "style"; conception, in t^e only true sense of the 
word "form." Neither style nor form, in their essence, are derived from 
convention; they always must be, and are, created anew, and establish and 
follow their own laws. It is undeniable that certain periodsr and the most 

38 The Creative Process 

fortunate ones have established clearly defined patterns or standards which 
give the artist a basis on which to create freely. Our own is not one of these; 
today the individual is obliged to discover his own language before he has 
completed the mastery of it. Where such standards exist, however, they 
retain their vitality only as long as they are in the process of development. 
After this process has stopped, they wither and die, and can be re-created 
only by a conscious and essentially artificial effort, since they are produced 
by a unique and unrecoverable impulse, and are suited only to the content 
which has grown with them. 

After inspiration and conception comes execution. The process o execu- 
tion is first of all that of listening inwardly to the music as it shapes itself; 
of allowing the music to grow; of following both inspiration and concep- 
tion wherever they may lead. A phrase, a motif, a rhythm, even a chord, 
may contain within itself, in the composer's imagination, the energy which 
produces movement. It will lead the composer on, through the force of its 
own momentum or tension, to other phrases, other motifs, other chords. 

. . . Composition is a deed, an action, and a genuine action of any kind is, 
psychologically speaking, the simplest thing in the world. Is not its sub- 
jective essence intentness on the deed? The climber in the high mountains 
is intent on the steps he is taking, on the practical realization of those steps; 
if he allows his consciousness to dwell even on their implications, his foot 
may move the fatal half inch too far in the direction of the abyss at his side. 
The composer working at his music is faced with no such tragic alterna- 
tives; but his psychology is not dissimilar. He is not so much conscious of 
his ideas as possessed by them. Very often he is unaware of his exact proc- 
esses of thought till he is through with them; extremely often the completed 
work is incomprehensible to him immediately after it is finished. 

Why ? Because his experience in creating the work is incalculably more 
intense than any later experience he can have from it; because the finished 
product is, so to speak, the goal of that experience and not in any sense a 
repetition of it. He cannot relive the experience without effort which seems 
quite irrelevant. And yet he is too close to it to detach himself to the extent 
necessary to see his work objectively, and to allow it to exert its inherent 
power over him. 

For this reason I have always profoundly disagreed with the definition 
made by one of my most distinguished living colleagues who, elaborating 
Aristotle's famous definition of art, wrote that art on the highest level is 
concerned with "der Wiedergabe der inneren Natur" literally translated, 
"the reproduction of inner nature." It seems to me on the contrary, that art 
is a function, an activity of the inner nature that the artist's effort is, using 
the raw and undisciplined materials with which his inner nature provides 
him, to endow them with a meaning which they do not of themselves pos- 

Roger Sessions 39 

sess to transcend them by giving them artistic form. Is not this what a far 
greater musician, Beethoven, meant, in the words quoted by Bettina Bren- 
tano: "Riihrung passt nur an Frauenzimmer (verzeih f mir); dem Manne 
muss Musif^ Fetter aus dem Geiste schlagen" "Emotion is fit only for 
women for man, music must strike fire from his mind." 

From "The Composer and His Message," by Roger Sessions in The Intent of the Artist, edited 
by Augusto Centeno. By permission of the publishers: Princeton University Press, Princeton, 
New Jersey. 

40 The Creative Process 

Harold Shapero : THE MUSICAL MIND 



,HE MUSICAL MIND is concerned predominantly with the mechanism of 
tonal memory. Before it has absorbed a considerable variety of tonal experi- 
ences it cannot begin to function in a creative way complex enough to be 
considered as art. Though the tonal experiences offered to it at any given 
period of musical history are subject to change for example. Bach could 
not hear the timbre of the saxophone, or the pan-diatonic chordal arrange- 
ments of Stravinsky; nor could a modern musician hear the sonorities of 
the baroque trumpets, or the exact nature of the improvised accompani- 
ments derived from the thorough-bass the mnemonic methods by which 
these experiences are retained and later exploited creatively remain the same. 

The musical memory, where its physiological functions are intact, func- 
tions indiscriminately: a great percentage of what is heard becomes sub- 
merged in the unconscious, and is subject to literal recall. The creative 
portion of the musical mind, however, operates selectively, and the tonal 

Harold Shapero 41 

material which it offers up has been metamorphosed, and has become un- 
identifiable from the material which was originally absorbed. In the meta- 
morphosis which has taken place the original tonal material has become 
compounded with remembered emotional experiences, and it is this action 
o the creative unconscious which renders music more than an acoustical 
series of tones, which gives to music its humanistic aspect. 

In our time the musical mind is confronted with a great variety of tonal 
experiences: an immense historical literature has been accumulated and 
is constantly performed. It is, then, more difficult than ever before for the 
creative musician to absorb, select and integrate the materials which will 
make up his art. How then can he make his task easier ? If he re-examines 
the fundamental nature of musical syntax, which actually involves the effort 
of understanding in the most profound way the manner in which the cre- 
ative mind works, he cannot fail to gain a true insight into his artistic 
powers. There is prevalent the superstition that if the composer devotes too 
much attention to the analysis of the creative process, a catastrophe results 
in which his inspiration is destroyed and his art rendered meaningless, and 
that this meddling with a natural function is a result of over-rationalistic 
thinking stemming from the modern emphasis on scientific method. It is 
supposed that in earlier periods artists less preoccupied with this problem 
of understanding found it easier to produce satisfactory works of art. But 
there is evidence that the earlier composers were concerned to a greater 
extent with the mechanisms of the creative mind than are the composers of 
today. The well-known letter of Mozart in which he describes the methods 
by which a composition takes shape in his mind demonstrates clearly the 
degree of his interest in the matter. It is known that one of the few books 
which he owned was Hume's Treatise on Human Understanding, and 
that Mesmer, the discoverer of hypnotism, was one of his close friends. The 
following letter by Beethoven shows that he as well possessed a remarkable 
insight into the structure of his creative mind: 

Baden, Sept. 10, 1821 

To Tobias von Haslinger 
My very dear friend, 

On my way to Vienna yesterday, sleep overtook me in my car- 
riage While thus slumbering I dreamt that I had gone on a far 

journey, to no less a place than Syria, on to Judea and back, and then 
all the way to Arabia, when at length I actually arrived at Jerusalem. 
The Holy City gave rise to thoughts of the Holy Books. No wonder 
then if the man Tobias occurred to me, which led me to think of our 
own little Tobias and our great Tobias. Now during my dream-journey, 
the following canon came into my head: 

42 The Creative Process 


To-bi-as Do-mi-nus Ha 
<f, *f 

rirpgir ir 

s lin-ger Ol 01 To-bi-as! 

But scarcely did I awake when away flew the canon, and I could not 
recall any part of it. On returning here however, next day, in the same 
carriage ---- 1 resumed my dream-journey, being on this occasion wide 
awake, when lo and behold! in accordance with the laws of association 
of ideas [The use of this phrase is indeed striding. H.S.], the same 
canon flashed across me; so being now awake I held it as fast as Mene- 
laus did Proteus, only permitting it to be changed into three parts. . . . 

If the modern composer, in the effort to understand better his creative 
mind, attempts to re-examine the elements of musical syntax, he must im- 
mediately find himself occupied with the nature of melody, for it is the 
melodic phrase, exactly equivalent to the sentence in the syntax of language, 
which serves as the primary element in almost any musical structure. By 
investigating the possibilities of phrase construction and discovering for 
himself what can be done within a small formal frame the composer not 
only disciplines his creative unconscious so that the melodic fragments 
which it oilers up possess increased sharpness of contour, but develops at 
the same time the architectural faculty which will enable him to calculate 
correctly the time-spaces involved in the manipulation of larger musical 
forms. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven possessed the greatest mastery of 
musical phraseology, and it was at that historical period that such a mastery 
was stylistically most welcome, for the composers who followed soon be- 
came interested in subjectifying the tonal material, with the result that con- 
tinuity established by means of small connected phrase groups broke down 
and was replaced by the concept of organic form. 

If a composer finds himself sympathetic to the classical quality of expres- 
sion, he can derive immense benefit from a detailed examination of the 
melodic procedures of the three great Viennese masters. He will find it 
logical to begin his studies with the trio forms, such as the minuet and 
scherzo, for these do not demand the complexities of episodic treatment, 
and present the clearest examples of the simple musical sentence. As a tech- 
nical exercise he may copy down the soprano line of one of these sentences 
and attempt to supply the accompanying parts, comparing his result with 

Harold Shapero 43 

that of the master. He will find that with practice he is able to duplicate the 
original accompaniments or supply alternatives which are equally pro- 
ficient technically. As a further step he may begin writing accompanying 
parts to soprano lines which he has himself composed in imitation of his 
models. Gradually his mind will acquire the ability to direct a phrase which 
starts in the tonic to the dominant, mediant, submediant, or other destina- 
tions, as well as to extend it to any desired length. It is then that he will 
understand that if he focuses his attention on a definite key and beats men- 
tally in a chosen meter, musical images will be set in motion in his mind, 
and the entire musical texture generated in this way. It is extremely impor- 
tant to practice these exercises in all keys and all rhythms so that the great- 
est degree of fluency may be attained. The importance of daily practice also 
cannot be overemphasized, for without it the bridge established between 
the conscious and the creative unconscious by technical exercise is soon 
blocked by non-musical associations. Just as the function of daily ritual and 
prayer, as related to the intuitive realization of deity, is that of preserving 
the thread of connected thoughts which lead to the intuition itself, so the 
function of daily technical practice, as related to musical composition, is 
that of maintaining free the inroad to that corner of the mind from which 
the music comes. 

As the composer continues to work exercises in imitation of his models 
he will be surprised to find that along with the thousand subtleties of tech- 
nique he will absorb from his masters, he will discover the personal mate- 
rials of his own art. These will often be presented to him in dreams, or in 
the half-waking state of consciousness, before the inner critical faculty has 
had the opportunity to act in selecting and repressing the given material. 
From these experiences he will gradually accumulate the technical stuffs 
of a private creative world, possessing capabilities of change and expansion 
according to his expressive needs. 

It is not only in our time that composers have been compelled to build 
this inner world, though the breakdown of the old tonal system and the 
great diversity of contemporary styles have created this illusion among us. 
Bach copied zealously the manuscripts of Buxtehude in which he found a 
point of departure. Beethoven as a young man spoke of the excitement 
with which he discovered for himself a certain modulatory sequence (I-V 
of II II-V of III III-V of IV IV, etc.) especially suited for climaxes. It 
seems to us, as we survey the music of these earlier composers with the 
comfortable assurance given us by centuries of musical analysis, that they 
faced problems which were negligible compared with those facing the 
composers of today, yet each of them discovered technical devices in ad- 
vance of the theoretical understanding of his time, musical uses which 
could not be analyzed by his contemporaries. 

44 The Creative Process 

We are familiar with the efforts of the great modern composers to create 
technical systems which will provide them with the tools of expression. 
Schonberg and Hindemith, not satisfied with pointing out the esthetic in- 
evitability of the paths they have chosen, have taken great pains to establish 
their systems on a scientific basis. They have encountered so many difficul- 
ties in reconciling their systems with those of the past that we may assume 
that they have come into conflict with the natural functions of the musical 
mind. Though it is true, as they contend, that the creative mentality can be 
forced to function within an atonal frame (Hindemith's system is less atonal 
than Schonberg' s in its implications, for though it endeavors to support a 
free chromatic scheme, it is concerned with the binding qualities of inter- 
vals and polar tones), it undergoes a considerable warping in the process. 
It is as if a man were taught to walk with bent knees because of the in- 
ordinate lowness of the ceiling. Many of us feel that it is Stravinsky, in the 
works of his late period, who has best succeeded in organizing the elements 
of his musical speech, and that the direction he has indicated offers a most 
important road for future development. It is interesting that he has not 
felt it necessary to attempt a scientific justification for his diatonic methods, 
but has relied on the intelligence of his inner ear. 

If the composer is to reject systems such as those of Hindemith and 
Schonberg on the grounds that they conflict with the natural functions of 
the musical mind, he must be prepared to stand ground as to what can be 
considered natural functioning. It is evident that inspiration is a most vital 
component of art. It is through inspired thematic and structural materials 
that the composer most surely communicates to his listeners the force of his 
creations, through them that his works possess their greatest chance for sur- 
vival. In this sense it is possible to consider inspiration the creative absolute. 
It is certain that inspiration occurs only when the artist is compelled to give 
something of himself, and when his creative imagination is unhampered by 
technical procedures unsuited to it. Thus a system of musical materials 
which fails to lead to inspiration can be considered unnatural, and a system 
which leads to inspiration can be considered one which insures the natural 
functioning of the creative mind. The composer can be certain that some- 
thing has gone wrong with his musical thinking when he loses his inspira- 
tion. The composer to whom inspiration is granted can be assured that he 
is drawing on the most significant creative forces which are available to him. 
He is in a position to perceive the musical mind in its permanent aspects. 

From "The Musical Mind," by Harold Shapero, in Modern Music, Winter, 1946, By permission 
of the author and the publishers of Modern Music: The League of Composers, New York City. 

Harold Shapero 45 

Vincent van Gogh : LETTER TO ANTON 



HAVE BEEN working very hard. I had not made many compositions or 
studies for a long time, so when I once got started, I became so eager that 
many a morning I got up at four o'clock 

It must not surprise you that some of my figures are so entirely different 
from those I make at times when I use models. 

/ seldom worl^ from memory I do not practice that kind of thing very 
much. Besides, I am so used to work with the natural form now and can 
keep my personal feeling out of it much better than I could at first. I waver 
less and just because I am sitting opposite the model, SOMETIMES i FEEL 
MORE LIKE MYSELF. When I have a model who is quiet and steady and with 
whom I am acquainted, then I draw repeatedly till there is one drawing 
that is different from the rest, which does not look like an ordinary study, 
but more typical and with more feeling. All the same it was made under 
circumstances similar to those of the others > yet the latter are just studies 
with less feeling and life in them. This manner of working is like another 
one, just as plausible. As to The Little Winter Gardens, for example, you 

46 The Creative Process 

said yourself they had so much feeling; all right, but that was not acci- 
dental I drew them several times and there was no feeling in them. Then 
afterwards after I had done the ones that were so stiff came the others. 
It is the same with the clumsy and awkward things. HOW IT HAPPENS THAT 
i CAN EXPRESS SOMETHING OF THAT KIND? Because the thing has already taken 
form in my mind before I start on it. The first attempts are absolutely un- 
bearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something 
worth while in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real 
intention and purpose. 

I am very much pleased to have you notice that of late I have been trying 
to express the values of crowds, and that I try to separate things in the dizzy 
whirl and chaos one can see in each little corner of Nature. 

Formerly the light and shade in my studies were mostly arbitrary, at 
least they were not put down logically, and so they were colder and flatter. 
When I once get the feeling of my subject, and get to know it, I usually 
draw it in three or more variations be it a figure or landscape only I 
always refer to Nature for every one of them and then I do my best not to 
put in any detail, as the dream quality would then be lost. When Tersteeg 
or my brother then says to me: "What is that, grass or coal?" I answer: 
"Glad to hear that you cannot see what it is." 

Still it is enough like Nature for the simple peasants of this part of the 
country. They say: "Yes, that's the hedge of Juffrouw Renese," and: "There 
are the beanpoles of van der Louw." 

Translated by Rela van Messel 

From Letters to an Artist: Vincent van Gogh to Anton Bidder van Rappard, translated by Rela 
van Messel. By permission of the publishers: The Viking Press, Inc., copyright 1936, New York 

Vincent van Gogh 

Christian Zervos : CONVERSATION WITH 



WINTER, I was with Picasso at his estate o Boisgeloup, for the pur- 
pose of choosing the works reproduced in this number [of Cahiers d'Art]. 
At the moment I had already in mind the examination of art, published in 
the first number of this year, and I focused my conversation on this subject. 
Picasso spoke to me simply, but with the emotion which he knows how to 
put into his words, when he speaks of art (he speaks about it rarely), and 
which gives to each word a direct sense that transcription cannot preserve. 
"I report his ideas here as accurately as my memory made possible on the 
very evening of my visit to Boisgeloup. They have not been read over by 
Picasso. To my proposal to show my notes to him, he answered: *You need 
not show them to me. The essential, in these times of moral misery, is to 
create enthusiasm. How many people have read Homer? Nevertheless 
everyone speaks of him. Thus the Homeric myth has been created. A myth 
of this kind creates a precious excitation. It is enthusiasm of which we have 
the most need, we and the young.' 

48 The Creative Process 

"This conversation by fits and starts is then reproduced here without 
order or sequence, for fear of involuntarily distorting the sense.** 

Christian Zervos. 

We can make over to fit the artist the quip of the man who said there is 
nothing more dangerous than instruments of war in the hands of generals. 
In the same way there is nothing more dangerous than justice in the hands 
of judges and paint brushes in the hands of the painter! Imagine the danger 
for a society! But today we haven't the spirit to banish the poets and painters, 
for we no longer have any idea of the danger of keeping them in the city. 

To my distress and perhaps to my delight, I order things in accordance 
with my passions. What a sad thing for a painter who loves blondes but 
denies himself the pleasure of putting them in his picture because they don't 
go well with the basket of fruit! What misery for a painter who detests 
apples to have to use them all the time because they harmonize with the 
table cloth! I put in my pictures everything I like. So much the worse for 
the things they have to get along with one another. 

Heretofore pictures moved toward their completion by progression. Each 
day brought something new. A picture was a sum of additions. With me, 
a picture is a sum of destructions. I make a picture, and proceed to destroy 
it. But in the end nothing is lost; the red I have removed from one part 
shows up in another. 

It would be very interesting to record photographically, not the stages of 
a painting, but its metamorphoses. One would see perhaps by what course 
a mind finds its way towards the crystallization of its dream. But what is 
really very curious is to see that the picture does not change basically, that 
the initial vision remains almost intact in spite of appearances. I see often 
a light and a dark, when I have put them in my picture, I do everything 
I can to 'break them up/ in adding a color that creates a counter effect. I 
perceive, when this work is photographed, that what I have introduced to 
correct my first vision has disappeared, and that after all the photographic 
image corresponds to my first vision, before the occurrence of the trans- 
formations brought about by my will. 

The picture is not thought out and determined beforehand, rather while 
it is being made it follows the mobility of thought. Finished, it changes 
further, according to the condition of him who looks at it. A picture lives 
its life like a living creature, undergoing the changes that daily life imposes 
upon us. That is natural, since a picture lives only through him who looks 
at it. 

When I am working on a picture, I think of a white and apply a white. 
But I cannot continue to work, think and apply a white; colors, like linea- 
ments, follow the changes of emotion. You have seen the sketch I made of 

Christian Zervos 49 

a picture with all the colors indicated. What is left? Still, the white I 
thought of, the green I thought of are in the picture; but not in the place 
foreseen, nor in the expected quantity. Naturally pictures can be made out 
of harmonizing patches, but they will have no dramatic quality. 

I want to develop the ability to do a picture in such a way that no one can 
ever see how it has been done. To what end? What I want is that my pic- 
ture should evoke nothing but emotion. 

Work is a necessity for man. 

A horse does not go by itself between the shafts. 

Man invented the alarm clock. 

At the beginning of each picture there is someone who works with me. 
Toward the end I have the impression of having worked without a col- 

When one begins a picture one often discovers fine things. One ought to 
beware of these, destroy one's picture, recreate it many times. On each de- 
struction of a beautiful find, the artist does not suppress it, to tell the truth; 
rather he transforms it, condenses it, makes it more substantial. The issue 
is the result of rejected discoveries. Otherwise one becomes one's own 
admirer. I sell myself nothing! 

In reality one works with few colors. What gives the illusion of many is 
that they have been put in the right place. 

Abstract art is only painting. And drama? 

There is no abstract art. One always has to begin with something. One 
can then remove all appearance of reality; one runs no risk, for the idea of 
the object has left an ineffaceable imprint. It is the thing that aroused the 
artist, stimulated his ideas, stirred his emotions. Ideas and emotions will 
ultimately be prisoners of his work; whatever they do, they can't escape 
from the picture; they form an integral part of it, even when their presence 
is no longer discernible. Whether he likes it or not, man is the instrument 
of nature; it imposes its character, its appearance, upon him. In my Dinard 
pictures, as in those of Pourville, I expressed almost the same vision. But 
you have seen yourself how different is the atmosphere of the pictures made 
in Brittany and in Normandy, since you have recognized the light of the 
cliffs of Dieppe. I did not copy this light, I didn't pay particular attention 
to it. I was simply bathed by it; my eyes saw and my subconscious regis- 
tered their vision; my hand recorded my sensations. One cannot oppose 
nature. It is stronger than the strongest of men! We have all an interest in 
being on good terms with her. We can permit ourselves some liberties, but 
only in detail. 

There is not, moreover, a figurative and a nonfigurative art. Everything 
appears to us in the form of figures. Even in metaphysics ideas are ex- 
pressed by figures; thus you can understand how absurd it would be to 

50 The Creative Process 

think of painting without images of figures. A person, an object, a circle, 
are figures; they act upon us more or less intensely. Some are nearer to our 
sensations, produce emotions which concern our affective faculties; others 
appeal more especially to the intellect. They must all be accepted, for my 
spirit has as much need of emotion as my senses. Do you think it interests 
me that this picture represents two people? These two people once existed, 
but they exist no longer. The vision of them gave me an initial emotion, 
little by little their real presence became obscured, they became for me a 
fiction, then they disappeared, or rather were transformed into problems 
of all sorts. For me they aren't two people any more, but forms and colors, 
understand, forms and colors which sum up, however, the idea of the two 
people and conserve the vibration of their life. 

I behave with my painting as I behave with things. I paint a window, 
just as I look through a window. If this window when open doesn't look 
good in my picture, I draw a curtain and close it as I would have done in 
my room. One must act in painting, as in life, directly. Admittedly painting 
has its conventions, of which it is necessary to take account, since one can't 
do otherwise. For this reason one must have constantly before one's eyes 
the very presence of life. 

The artist is a receptacle of emotions come from no matter where : from 
the sky, the earth, a piece of paper, a passing figure, a cobweb. This is why 
one must not discriminate between things. There is no rank among them. 
One must take one's good where one finds it, except in one's own works. 
I have a horror of copying myself, but I have no hesitation, when I am 
shown for example a portfolio of old drawings, in taking from them what- 
ever I want. 

When we invented cubism, we had no intention of inventing cubism, 
but simply of expressing what was in us. Nobody drew up a program of 
action, and though our friends the poets followed our efforts attentively, 
they never dictated to us. The young painters of today often outline a pro- 
gram for themselves to follow and try to do their assignments correctly like 
well-behaved schoolboys. 

The painter passes through states of fullness and of emptying. That is 
the whole secret of art, I take a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau. There 
I get an indigestion of greenness. I must empty this sensation into a picture. 
Green dominates in it. The painter paints as if in urgent need to discharge 
himself of his sensations and his visions. Men take possession of it as a 
means of covering their nakedness a little. They take what they can and as 
they can. I believe that finally they take nothing, they quite simply cut out 
a coat to the measure of their own incomprehension. They make in their 
own image everything from God to the picture. That is why the nail is the 
undoer of painting. Painting has always some importance, at least that of 

Christian Zervos 51 

the man who made it. The day it is bought and hung on the wall it takes 
on an importance of another kind, and the painting is done for. 

The academic teaching about beauty is false. We are deceived, but so 
well deceived that it is impossible to recover even the shadow of a truth. 
The beauties of the Parthenon, the Venuses, the Nymphs, the Narcissuses, 
are so many lies. Art is not the application of a canon of beauty, but what 
instinct and intellect can conceive independently of the canon. When one 
loves a woman one doesn't take instruments and measure her, one loves 
her with desire, and nevertheless everything has been done to introduce 
the canon even into love. To tell the truth the Parthenon is nothing but a 
farmhouse with a roof; colonnades and sculptures were added because in 
Athens there were people who worked and who wanted to express them- 
selves. It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. Cezanne 
would never have interested me if he had lived and thought like Jacques- 
Emile Blanche, even if the apple he painted had been ten times as beautiful. 
What interests us is the uneasiness of Cezanne, the real teaching of Cezanne, 
the torments of van Gogh, that is to say the drama of the man. The rest 
is false. 

Everybody wants to understand painting. Why is there no attempt to 
understand the song of birds? Why does one love a night, a flower, every- 
thing that surrounds a man, without trying to understand it all? While as 
for painting, one wants to understand. Let it be understood above all that 
the artist works by necessity, that he is, he too, a least element of the world, 
to which no more importance should be attached than to so many natural 
things which charm us but which we do not explain to ourselves. Those 
who try to explain a picture are most of the time on the wrong track. Ger- 
trude Stein announced to me joyously some time ago that she had at last 
understood what my picture represented: three musicians. It was a still life! 

How would you have a spectator live my picture as I have lived it? A 
picture comes to me from far off, who knows how far, I divined it, I saw it, 
I made it, and yet next day I myself don't see what I have done. How can 
one penetrate my dreams, my instincts, my desires, my thoughts, which have 
taken a long time to elaborate themselves and bring themselves to the light, 
above all seize in them what I brought about, perhaps, against my will? 

With the exception of some painters who are opening new horizons to 
painting, the youth of today do not know any more where to go. Instead of 
taking up our researches in order to react sharply against us, they apply 
themselves to reanimating the past. Yet the world is open before us, every- 
thing is still to be done, and not to be done over again. Why hang on hope- 
lessly to everything that has fulfilled its promise? There are kilometers of 
painting in the manner of; but it is rare to see a young man working in his 
own way. 

52 The Creative Process 

Is there some notion abroad that man can't repeat himself? To repeat is 
to go against the laws of the spirit, its forward motion. 

I am no pessimist, I do not dislike art, for I could not live without devot- 
ing all my hours to it. I love it as the whole end of my life. Everything I do 
in connection with art gives me a tremendous joy. Nevertheless 1 don't see 
why everybody busies himself about art, calls it to account, and on the sub- 
ject gives vent freely to his own folly. The museums are so many lies, the 
people who occupy themselves with art are for the most part imposters. I 
don't understand why there should be more prejudices about art in the revo- 
lutionary countries than in the backward ones! We have imposed upon the 
pictures in the museums all our stupidities, our errors, the pretenses of our 
spirit. We have made poor ridiculous things of them. We cling to myths 
instead of sensing the inner life of the men who painted them. There ought 
to be an absolute dictatorship ... a dictatorship of painters . . . the dictator- 
ship of a painter ... to suppress all who have deceived us, to suppress the 
tricksters, to suppress the matter of deception, to suppress habits, to suppress 
charm, to suppress history, to suppress a lot of other things. But good sense 
will always carry the day. One ought above all to make a revolution against 
good sense! The true dictator will always be vanquished by the dictatorship 
of good sense . . . Perhaps not! 

Translated by Brewster Ghiselin 

From "Conversation avec Picasso," by Christian Zervos in Cahiers d'Art, 1935. By permission of 
the publishers of Cahiers d'Art, Paris. 

Christian Zervos 53 

Yasuo Kuniyoshi : EASTTOWEST 

J.N 1925 and again in 1928 after my pictures had begun to sell we went 
abroad. There I admired and studied the old masters and traveled widely 
to see them. I was impressed by French contemporaries, especially for their 
keen understanding of their medium. I was excited about the things I saw, 
but in spite of persuasion on the part of Pascin and several other friends to 
stay longer in France, I was terribly glad to get back to New York. I found 
much to admire in French painters. There are so many little artists here, so 
few real painters. There they had so many fine painters. 

The trip proved a great stimulus, enlarging my scope and vision. Almost 
everybody on the other side was painting directly from the object, some- 
thing I hadn't done all these years. It was rather difficult to change my ap- 
proach since up to then I had painted almost entirely from imagination 
and my memories of the past. 

Throughout these many years of painting I have practiced starting my * 
work from reality stating the facts before me. Then I paint without the 
object for a certain length of time, combining reality and imagination. 

I have often obtained in painting directly from the object that which 
appears to be real results at the very first shot, but when that does happen, 
I purposely destroy what I have accomplished and re-do it over and over 

54 The Creative Process 

again. In other words that which comes easily I distrust. When I have con- 
densed and simplified sufficiently I know then that I have something more 
than reality. 

A word I often use is "felt," the meaning of which I try to get across in 
my painting. To me it means the realization of facts. For instance when 
painting a floor I want that floor to be a floor. Whatever object I am paint- 
ing I try to realize its relation point by point; the relation of myself to the 
object, and in the same way, point by point, the relation of the object to 
the background so as to make this object exist in space. 

Comments upon the object or the fact of the object are not sufficient ele- 
ments for a full expression. Each artist has to face the forces of nature and 
mould them together with his experience in order to create drama. Drama 
takes on different expressions according to the time and place. 

I spend a long time drawing from the object although I never make a 
composition in smaller scale no matter how large a canvas I am working 
on. I start drawing right on the canvas, working very carefully at the be- 
ginning for the painting, and develop the drawing until it fully suggests 
the subject. This enables me to carry on with the painting without the object 
in front of me. 

As time goes on colors take on a new significance. I don't use as many 
colors as I used to, but try more precisely to paint, in relation to color, so as 
to produce more color without using many colors. For luminosity I build a 
darker color on top of a lighter color. I believe in glazing to achieve depth 
and transparency of color. 

I like to start as many canvases as I can during the summer. I carry them 
to a certain point so that when I start working on them again, usually back 
in New York in the winter, it means about six months have elapsed since 
I originally started the canvas. Therefore I sometimes have about a dozen 
canvases going at the same time. I never paint over, even a small area, if 
there are changes to be made. Instead I always scrape down to the canvas 
and rebuild again. 

There are numerous problems that beset the artist in his work. Con- 
sciously or unconsciously each artist tries to solve them. Lately I have come 
to the stage where I actually take a problem and try to solve it. For instance 
I was interested in painting a dark object within the dark. In order to carry 
this out successfully it may take me several years. Once accomplished to my 
satisfaction, however, it becomes an integral part of me, enabling me to go 
on to another problem. 

From "East to West," by Yasuo Kuniyoshi in the Magazine of An, February, 1940. By permis- 
sion of the author and the publishers of Magazine of Art: The American Federation of Arts, 
New York City. 

Yasuo Kuniyoshi 55 



FIND IT rather difficult to write about my own painting. Briefly, I am 
seeking an integration between what I feel and what I have learned by 
objective criteria; an integration between the tired experienced eye and the 
childlike simple perception; but above all I hope to resolve the polarity 
which exists between an essentially emotional view of nature and a classical, 
austere sense of design. "In truth, I have fainted by opening my eyes day 
and night on the perceptible world, and also by closing them from time to 
time that I might better see the vision blossom and submit itself to orderly 
arrangement." This quotation from an article by Georges Rouault, which 
appeared in Verve, is to me rich in meaning and summarizes, with Gallic 
brevity, precisely what I have been driving at 

It seems to me that almost every artist finds some subdivision of nature or 
experience more congenial to his temperament than any other. To me it has 
been the sea or rather those regions adjacent to the sea beaches, dunes, 
swampy coasts. I haven't the space to go into the roots of this particular 
nostalgia but it has been part of my life since early childhood. 

56 The Creative Process 

As a secondary interest, I cherish the human physiognomy, the painting 
o people who, for diverse reasons, I find arresting. I seldom find my models 
among people of superlative beauty or symmetry. I am often fascinated by 
"brats" of eight or nine with stringy hair and querulous expressions 

In painting the sea coast I have tried to acquire as much objective knowl- 
edge of the subject as I possibly could. I know the people of those regions 
and I have become reasonably familiar with their activities. I have studied 
their fishing gear, their boats and assorted paraphernalia. I have learned 
how to sail (very badly, I regret to say) and the techniques of professional 
fishing. I don't lay great stress on the necessity of this kind of documenta- 
tion but it does give me the feeling of being more closely related to what I 
have chosen to paint. 

There is another aspect of an artist's choice of his subject matter which 
I think could be profitably explored. It is that I believe he is affectively re- 
lated to certain forms and designs. I believe his choice is channeled by the 
compulsion to find an objective vehicle for inward plastic images. I cer- 
tainly do not know why, but I am stirred by certain geometrical relation- 
ships, certain rectangular forms and arabesques out of which grow particular 
harmonies and rhythms. In deciding what subject I shall paint I am irre- 
sistibly drawn to objects which contain the skeleton of this type of plastic 
structure. Whether I am spending the summer on Barnegat Bay or on Cape 
Cod or merely sketching along the Harlem River, I somehow contrive to 
find the exact set of lines and contours which this inner appetite demands. 

I try to remember that painting at its best is a form of communication, 
that it is constantly reaching out to find response from an ideal and sym- 
pathetic audience. This I know is not accomplished by pictorial rhetoric 
nor by the manipulation of seductive paint surfaces. Nor is a good picture 
concocted out of theatrical props, beautiful subjects, or memories of other 
paintings. All these might astound but they will never communicate the 
emotional content or exaltation of life, which I believe an artist, by defini- 
tion, has to accept as his task. 

From "Before Paris and After," by Julian Levi in the Magazine of An, December, 1940. By 
permission of the author and the publishers of Magazine of Art: The American Federation of 
Arts, New York City. 

Julian Levi 57 



T ALL STARTED on August io, 1925, by my recalling an incident of my 
childhood when the sight of an imitation mahogany panel opposite my 
bed had induced one of those dreams between sleeping and waking. And 
happening to be at a seaside inn in wet weather I was struck by the way the 
floor, its grain accentuated by many scrubbings, obsessed my nervously ex- 
cited gaze. So I decided to explore the symbolism of the obsession, and to 
encourage my powers of meditation and hallucination I took a series of 
drawings from the floorboards by dropping pieces of paper on them at 
random and then rubbing the paper with blacklead. As I looked carefully 
at the drawings that I got in this way some dark, others smudgily dim 
I was surprised by the sudden heightening of my visionary powers, and by 
the dreamlike succession of contradictory images that came one on top of 
another with the persistence and rapidity peculiar to memories of love. 

Now my curiosity was roused and excited, and I began an impartial ex- 
ploration, making use of every kind of material that happened to come into 
my field of vision: leaves and their veins, frayed edges of sacking, brush- 

5$ The Creative Process 

strokes in a 'modern' painting, cotton unwound from a cotton-reel, etc., etc. 
Then I saw human heads, many different beasts, a battle ending in a kiss 
(the wind's sweetheart) , rocks, sea and rain, earth-tremors, the sphinx in its 
stable, the small tables round about the earth, Caesars shoulder -blade, false 
positions, a shawl covered with flowers of hoar frost, pampas. 

The cuts of a whip, trices of lava, fields of honour, inundations and 
seismic plants, scarecrows, the edge of the chestnut wood. 

Flashes of lightning before ones fourteenth year, vaccinated bread, con- 
jugal diamonds, the cuc\oo (origin of the pendulum), the meal of death, 
the wheel of light. 

A solar coinage system. 

The habits of leaves, the fascinating cyprus tree. 

Eve, the only one remaining to us. 

I put the first fruits of the frottage process together, from sea and rain to 
Eve, the only one remaining to us, and called it Natural History. 

I stress the fact that, through a series of suggestions and transmutations 
arrived at spontaneously like hypnotic visions, drawings obtained in this 
way lose more and more of the character of the material being explored 
(wood, for instance). They begin to appear as the kind of unexpectedly 
clear images most likely to throw light on the first cause of the obsession, or 
at least to provide a substitute for it. 

And so the frottage process simply depends on intensifying the mind's 
capacity for nervous excitement, using the appropriate technical means, ex- 
cluding all conscious directing of the mind (towards reason, taste, or 
morals) and reducing to a minimum the part played by him formerly 
known as the 'author' of the work. The process, in consequence, shows up 
as a true equivalent of what we now call automatic writing. The author is 
present as a spectator, indifferent or impassioned, at the birth of his own 
work, and observes the phases of his own development. Just as the poet's 
place, since the celebrated Letter of a Clairvoyant, consists in writing at the 
dictation of something that makes itself articulate within him, so the artist's 
role is to gather together and then give out that which makes itself visible 
within him. In devoting myself to this activity (or passivity) later we 
called it paranoic criticism and adapting frottage, which seemed at first 
only applicable to drawing, to the technical mediums of painting (for in- 
stance, scratching colours on a prepared coloured ground, over an uneven 
surface), and in trying all the time to reduce still more my own active par- 
ticipation in the making of a picture, so as to widen the active field of the 
mind's capacity for hallucination, I succeeded in being present as a spec- 
tator at the birth of all my works after August 10, 1925, the memorable day 
of the discovery of frottage. Being a man of 'ordinary constitution' (to use 
Rimbaud's terms) I have done my best to ma\e my soul monstrous. A blind 

Max Ernst 59 

swimmer, I have made myself clairvoyant. I have seen. I have become the 
amazed lover of what I have seen, wanting to identify myself with it. 

In 1930, when I had, with a passion that was yet systematic, composed my 
book, The Hundred-headed Woman, I had an almost daily visit from the 
Head of the Birds, called Loplop, a very special phantom of exceptional 
faithfulness, who is attached to my person. He presented me with a heart 
in a cage, the sea in a cage, two fetals, three leaves, a flower and a girl; and 
also the man with the blac\ eggs, and the man with the red cloal^. One fine 
autumn afternoon he told me that one day a Lacedemonian had been asJ^ed 
to go and hear a man who could imitate the nightingale perfectly. The 
Lacedaemonian answered: / have open heard the nightingale itself. One 
evening he told me some jokes that were not funny. Joke it is better not 
to reward a fine action at all than to reward it badly. A soldier had both 
arms blown off in a battle. His colonel offered him half-a-crown. The sol- 
dier said to him : 'I suppose, sir, you think I've only lost a pair of gloves.' 

What is the mechanism of collage? 

I think I would say that it amounts to the exploitation of the chance meet- 
ing on a non-suitable plane of two mutually distant realities (a paraphrase 
and generalization of the well-known quotation from Lautreamont 'Beau- 
tiful as the chance meeting upon a dissecting table of a sewing machine and 
an umbrella') or, more simply, the cultivation of systematic moving out of 
place on the lines of Andre Breton's theory: Super-reality must in any case 
be the function of our will to put everything completely out of place (natu- 
rally one could go so far as to put a hand out of place by isolating it from 
an arm, then the hand thereby gains, as a hand; and, what is more, when 
we speaJ^ of putting things out of place we are not thinking only of space. 
(Warning to the reader in The Hundred-headed Woman.) 

A complete, real thing, with a simple function apparently fixed once and 
for all (an umbrella), coming suddenly into the presence of another real 
thing, very different and no less incongruous (a sewing machine) in sur- 
roundings where both must feel out of place (on a dissecting table), escapes 
by this very fact from its simple function and its own identity; through a 
new relationship its false absolute will be transformed into a different ab- 
solute, at once true and poetic: the umbrella and the sewing machine will 
make love. The mechanism of the process seems to me to be laid bare by 
this very simple example. Complete transmutation followed by a pure act 
such as the act of love must necessarily occur every time the given facts make 
conditions favourable: the pairing of two realities which apparently cannot 
be paired on a plane apparently not suited to them. Speaking of the collage 
process in 1920 Breton wrote : 

It is the marvellous capacity to grasp two mutually distant realities 
without going beyond the field of our experience and to draw a spark 

60 The Creative Process 

from their juxtaposition; to bring within reach of our senses abstract 
forms capable of the same intensity and enhancement as any others; 
and, depriving us of any system of reference, to set us at odds with our 
own memories. (Preface to Max Ernst exhibition, May, 1920.) 

The two processes, frottage and collage, are so alike that without chang- 
ing much I can use the same words to describe the discovery of the one that 
I used earlier for the other. One day, in 1919, being in wet weather at a sea- 
side inn, I was struck by the way the pages of an illustrated catalogue 
obsessed my nervously excited gaze. It was a catalogue of objects for anthro- 
pological, microscopic, psychological, mineralogical and paleontological 
demonstration. I found here united elements such poles apart that the very 
incongruousness of the assembly started off a sudden intensification of my 
visionary faculties and a dreamlike succession of contradictory images 
double, triple and multiple images coming one on top of the other with 
the persistence and rapidity peculiar to memories of love, and to the dreams 
that come between sleeping and waking. These images themselves sug- 
gested new ways for them to meet in a new unknown (the plane of un- 
suitability) . All I had to do was to add, either by painting, or drawing, to 
the pages of the catalogue. And I had only to reproduce obediently what 
made itself visible within me, a colour, a scrawl, a landscape strange to the 
objects gathered in it, a desert, a sky, a geological event, a floor, a single line 
drawn straight to represent the horizon, to get a fixed and faithful image 
of my hallucination; to transform what had been commonplaces of adver- 
tising into dramas revealing my most secret desires. 

I think I can say without over-statement that surrealism has made it pos- 
sible for painting to travel in seven league boots miles from Renoir's three 
apples, Manet's four sticks of asparagus, Derain's little chocolate women, 
and the cubist's tobacco packet. It has opened up a field of vision limited 
only by the mind's capacity for nervous excitement. It goes without saying 
that this has been a great blow to the critics, who are terrified to see the 
'author's' importance being reduced to a minimum and the conception of 
talent abolished. Against them, however, we maintain that surrealist paint- 
ing is within reach of all those who are attracted by true revelations and 
who are therefore prepared to help on inspiration and make it work to 

We have no doubt that by yielding naturally to the business of subduing 
appearances and upsetting the relationships of 'realities' it is helping, with 
a smile on its lips, to hasten the general crisis of consciousness due in our 

me ' Translated by Myfantvy Evans 

From "Inspiration to Order," by Max Ernst in The Painter's Object, by Myf anwy Evans. By per- 
mission o the publishers: John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, London. 

Max Ernst 61 



HAS to eat one's own words. I remember I used to assert, perhaps I 
even wrote it: Everything that can possibly be painted has been painted, 
every brush-stroke that can possibly be laid on canvas has been laid on. The 
visual arts are at a dead end. Then suddenly, at the age of forty, I begin 
painting myself and am fascinated. 

Still, going through the Paris picture shops this year of grace, and seeing 
the Dufys and Chiricos, etc., and the Japanese Ito with his wish-wash nudes 
with pearl-button eyes, the same weariness comes over one. They are all so 
would-be, they make such efforts. They at least have nothing to paint. In 
the midst of them a graceful Friesz flower-piece, or a blotting-paper Laur- 
encin, seems a masterpiece. At least here is a bit of natural expression in 
paint. Trivial enough, when compared to the big painters, but still, as far 
as they go, real. 

What about myself, then! What am I doing, bursting into paint? I am 
a writer, I ought to stick to ink. I have found my medium of expression; 
why, at the age of forty, should I suddenly want to try another ? 

62 The Creative Process 

Things happen, and we have no choice. If Maria Huxley hadn't come 
rolling up to our house near Florence with four rather large canvases, one 
of which she had busted, and presented them to me because they had been 
abandoned in her house, I might never have started in on a real picture in 
my life. But those nice stretched canvases were too tempting. We had been 
painting doors and window-frames in the house, so there was a little stock 
of oil, turps and colour in powder, such as one buys from an Italian dro- 
gheria. There were several brushes for house-painting. There was a canvas 
on which the unknown owner had made a start mud-grey, with the be- 
ginnings of a red-haired man. It was a grimy and ugly beginning, and the 
young man who had made it had wisely gone no further. He certainly had 
had no inner compulsion : nothing in him, as far as paint was concerned, or 
if there was anything in him, it had stayed in, and only a bit of the mud- 
grey "group" had come out. 

So for the sheer fun of covering a surface and obliterating that mud-grey, 
I sat on the floor with the canvas propped against a chair and with my 
house-paint brushes and colours in little casseroles. I disappeared into that 
canvas. It is to me the most exciting moment when you have a blank 
canvas and a big brush full of wet colour, and you plunge. It is just like 
diving into a pond then you start frantically to swim. So far as I am con- 
cerned, it is like swimming in a baffling current and being rather frightened 
and very thrilled, gasping and striking out for all you're worth. The know- 
ing eye watches sharp as a needle; but the picture comes clean out of in- 
stinct, intuition and sheer physical action. Once the instinct and intuition 
gets into the brush-tip, the picture happens, if it is to be a picture at all. 

At least, so my first picture happened the one I have called "A Holy 
Family." In a couple of hours there it all was, man, woman, child, blue 
shirt, red shawl, pale room all in the rough, but, as far as I am concerned, 
a picture. The struggling comes later. But the picture itself comes in the 
first rush, or not at all. It is only when the picture has come into being that 
one can struggle and make it grow to completion. 

Ours is an excessively conscious age. We 'know so much, we feel so little. 
I have lived enough among painters and around studios to have had all the 
theories and how contradictory they are rammed down my throat. A 
man has to have a gizzard like an ostrich to digest all the brass-tacks and 
wire nails of modern art theories. Perhaps all the theories, the utterly in- 
digestible theories, like nails in an ostrich's gizzard, do indeed help to grind 
small and make digestible all the emotional and aesthetic pabulum that 
lies in an artist's soul. But they can serve no other purpose. Not even cor- 
rective. The modern theories of art make real pictures impossible. You only 
get these expositions, critical ventures in paint, and fantastic negations. And 
the bit of fantasy that may lie in the negation as in a Dufy or a Chirico 

D. H. Lawrence 6 

is just the bit that has escaped theory and perhaps saves the picture. Theo- 
rise, theorise all you like but when you start to paint, shut your theoretic 
eyes and go for it with instinct and intuition. 

Myself, I have always loved pictures, the pictorial art. I never went to an 
art school, I have had only one real lesson in painting in all my life. But of 
course I was thoroughly drilled in "drawing," the solid-geometry sort, 
and the plaster-cast sort, and the pin-wire sort. I think the solid-geometry 
sort, with all the elementary laws of perspective, was valuable. But the pin- 
wire sort and the plaster-cast light-and-shade sort was harmful. Plaster- 
casts and pin-wire outlines were always so repulsive to me, I quite early 
decided I "couldn't draw." I couldn't draw, so I could never do anything 
on my own. When I did paint jugs of flowers or bread and potatoes, or cot- 
tages in a lane, copying from Nature, the result wasn't very thrilling. Na- 
ture was more or less of a plaster-cast to methose plaster-cast heads of 
Minerva or figures of Dying Gladiators which so unnerved me as a youth. 
The "object," be it what it might, was always slightly repulsive to me once 
I sat down in front of it, to paint it. So, of course, I decided I couldn't really 
paint. Perhaps I can't. But I verily believe I can make pictures, which is to 
me all that matters in this respect The art of painting consists in making 
pictures and so many artists accomplish canvases without coming within 
miles of painting a picture. 

I learnt to paint from copying other pictures usually reproductions, 
sometimes even photographs. When I was a boy, how I concentrated over 
it! Copying some perfectly worthless scene reproduction in some magazine. 
I worked with almost dry water-colour, stroke by stroke, covering half a 
square-inch at a time, each square-inch perfect and completed, proceeding 
in a kind of mosaic advance, with no idea at all of laying on a broad wash. 
Hours and hours of intense concentration, inch by inch progress, in a 
method entirely wrong and yet those copies of mine managed, when they 
were finished, to have a certain something that delighted me: a certain 
glow of life, which was beauty to me. A picture lives with the life you put 
into it. If you put no life into it no- thrill, no concentration of delight or 
exaltation of visual discovery then the picture is dead, like so many can- 
vases, no matter how much thorough and scientific work is put into it. Even 
if you only copy a purely banal reproduction of an old bridge, some sort of 
keen, delighted awareness of the old bridge or of its atmosphere, or the 
image it has kindled inside you, can go over on to the paper and give a 
certain touch of life to a banal conception. 

It needs a certain purity of spirit to be an artist, of any sort. The motto 
which should be written over every School of Art is: "Blessed are the pure 
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven/* But by "pure in spirit" we 
mean pure in spirit. An artist may be a profligate and, from the social point 

64 The Creative Process 

of view, a scoundrel. But i he can paint a nude woman, or a couple of 
apples, so that they are a living image, then he was pure in spirit, and, for 
the time being, his was the kingdom of heaven. This is the beginning of all 
art, visual or literary or musical : be pure in spirit. It isn't the same as good- 
ness. It is much more difficult and nearer the divine. The divine isn't only 
good, it is all things. 

One may see the divine in natural objects; I saw it to-day, in the frail, 
lovely little camellia flowers on long stems, here on the bushy and splendid 
flower-stalls of the Ramblas in Barcelona. They were different from the 
usual fat camellias, more like gardenias, poised delicately, and I saw them 
like a vision. So now, I could paint them. But if I had bought a handful, and 
started in to paint them "from nature," then I should have lost them. By 
staring at them I should have lost them. I have learnt by experience. It is 
personal experience only. Some men can only get at a vision by staring 
themselves blind, as it were : like Cezanne; but staring kills my vision. That's 
why I could never "draw" at school. One was supposed to draw what one 
stared at. 

The only thing one can look into, stare into, and see only vision, is the 
vision itself: the visionary image. That is why I am glad I never had any 
training but the self-imposed training of copying other men's pictures. As 
I grew more ambitious, I copied Leader's landscapes, and Frank Brangwyn's 
cartoon-like pictures, then Peter de Wint and Girtin water-colours. I can 
never be sufficiently grateful for the series of English water-colour painters, 
published by the Studio in eight parts, when I was a youth. I had only six of 
the eight parts, but they were invaluable to me. I copied them with the great- 
est joy, and found some of them extremely difficult. Surely I put as much 
labour into copying from those water-colour reproductions as most modern 
art students put into all their years of study. And I had enormous profit from 
it. I not only acquired a considerable technical skill in handling water- 
colour let any man try copying the English water-colour arists, from Paul 
Sandby and Peter de Wint and Girtin, up to Frank Brangwyn and the im- 
pressionists like Brabazon, and he will see how much skill he requires but 
also I developed my visionary awareness. And I believe one can only develop 
one's visionary awareness by close contact with the vision itself: that is, by 
knowing pictures, real vision pictures, and by dwelling on them, and really 
dwelling in them. It is a great delight, to dwell in a picture. But it needs a 
purity of spirit, a sloughing of vulgar sensation and vulgar interest, and 
above all, vulgar contact, that few people know how to perform. Oh, if art 
schools only taught that! If, instead of saying: This drawing is wrong, in- 
correct, badly drawn, etc., they would say: Isn't this in bad taste? isn't it 
insensitive? isn't that an insentient curve with none of the delicate aware- 
ness of liEe in it? But art is treated all wrong. It is treated as if it were a 

D. H. Lawrence 65 

science, which it is not. Art is a form of religion, minus the Ten Com- 
mandment business, which is sociological. Art is a form of supremely 
delicate awareness and atonement meaning at-oneness, the state of being 
at one with the object. But is the great atonement in delight? for I can 
never look on art save as a form of delight. 

All my life I have from time to time gone back to paint, because it gave 
me a form of delight that words can never give. Perhaps the joy in words 
goes deeper and is for that reason more unconscious. The conscious delight 
is certainly stronger in paint. I have gone back to paint for real pleasure- 
and by paint I mean copying, copying either in oils or waters. I think the 
greatest pleasure I ever got came from copying Fra Angelico's "Flight into 
Egypt" and Lorenzetti's big picture of the Thebaid, in each case working 
from photographs and putting in my own colour; or perhaps even more a 
Carpaccio picture in Venice. Then I really learned what life, what power- 
ful life has been put into every curve, every motion of a great picture. Purity 
of spirit, sensitive awareness, intense eagerness to portray an inward vision, 
how it all comes. The English water-colours are frail in comparison and 
the French and the Flemings are shallow. The great Rembrandt I never 
tried to copy, though I loved him intensely, even more than I do now; and 
Rubens I never tried, though I always liked him so much, only he seemed 
so spread out. But I have copied Peter de Hooch, and Vandyck and others 
that I forget. Yet none of them gave me the deep thrill of the Italians, 
Carpaccio, or the lovely "Death of Procris" in the National Gallery, or that 
"Wedding" with the scarlet legs, in the Uffizi, or a Giotto from Padua. I 
must have made many copies in my day, and got endless joy out of them. 

Then suddenly, by having a blank canvas, I discovered I could make a 
picture myself. That is the point, to make a picture on a blank canvas. And 
I was forty before I had the real courage to try. Then it became an orgy, 
making pictures. 

I have learnt now not to work from objects, not to have models, not to 
have a technique. Sometimes, for a water-colour, I have worked direct from 
a model. But it always spoils the picture. I can only use a model when the 
picture is already made; then I can look at the model to get some detail 
which the vision failed me with, or to modify something which I feel is 
unsatisfactory and I don't know why. Then a model may give a suggestion. 
But at the beginning, a model only spoils the picture. The picture must all 
come out of the artist's inside, awareness of forms and figures. We can call 
it memory, but it is more than memory. It is the image as it lives in the 
consciousness, alive like a vision, but unknown. I believe many people have, 
in their consciousness, living images that would give them the greatest joy 
to bring out. But they don't know how to go about it. And teaching only 
hinders them. 

66 The Creative Process 

To me, a picture has delight in it, or it isn't a picture. The saddest pictures 
of Piero della Francesca or Sodoma or Goya, have still that indescribable 
delight that goes with the real picture. Modern critics talk a lot about 
ugliness, but I never saw a real picture that seemed to me ugly. The theme 
may be ugly, there may be a terrifying, distressing, almost repulsive quality, 
as in El Greco. Yet it is all, in some strange way, swept up in the delight of 
a picture. No artist, even the gloomiest, ever painted a picture without the 
curious delight in image-making. 

From "Making Pictures" in Assorted Articles, by D. H. Lawrence. By permission of Mrs. Frieda 
Lawrence; the English publishers: William Heinemann, Ltd., London; and the United States 
publishers: Alfred A. Knopf, Incorporated, copyright, 1928, 1929, 1930, New York City. The 
American edition was published with the title: Assorted Essays. 

D. H. Lawrence 67 



.T is A MISTAKE f or a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about 
his job. It releases tension needed for his work. By trying to express his aims 
with rounded-off logical exactness, he can easily become a theorist whose 
actual work is only a caged-in exposition of conceptions evolved in terms of 
logic and words. 

But though the nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind 
must play its part in his work, he also has a conscious mind which is not 
inactive. The artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, 
and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organizes memories, and pre- 
vents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time. 

It is likely, then, that a sculptor can give, from his own conscious ex- 
perience, clues which will help others in their approach to sculpture, and this 
article tries to do this, and no more. It is not a general survey of sculpture, 
or of my own development, but a few notes on some of the problems that 
have concerned me from time to time. 

68 The Creative Process 

Three Dimensions 

Appreciation of sculpture depends upon the ability to respond to form in 
three dimensions. That is, perhaps, why sculpture has been described as the 
most difficult of all arts; certainly it is more difficult than the arts which in- 
volve appreciation of flat forms, shape in only two dimensions. Many more 
people are 'form-blind' than colour-blind. The child learning to see first 
distinguishes only two-dimensional shape; it cannot judge distances, depths. 
Later, for its personal safety and practical needs, it has to develop (partly by 
means of touch) the ability to judge roughly three-dimensional distances. 
But having satisfied the requirements of practical necessity most people go 
no further. Though they may attain considerable accuracy in the perception 
of flat form, they do not make the further intellectual and emotional effort 
needed to comprehend form in its full spatial existence. 

This is what the sculptor must do. He must strive continually to think of, 
and use form in its full spatial completeness. He gets the solid shape, as it 
were, inside his head he thinks of it, whatever its size, as if he were holding 
it completely enclosed in the hollow of his hand. He mentally visualizes a 
complex form from all round itself: he knows while he looks at one side 
what the other side is like; he identifies himself with its centre of gravity, its 
mass, its weight; he realizes its volume, as the space that the shape displaces 
in the air. 

And the sensitive observer of sculpture must also learn to feel shape simply 
as shape, not as description or reminiscence. He must, for example, perceive 
an egg as a simple single solid shape, quite apart from its significance as 
food, or from the literary idea that it will become a bird. And so with solids 
such as a shell, a nut, a plum, a pear, a tadpole, a mushroom, a mountain 
peak, a kidney, a carrot, a tree-trunk, a bird, a bud, a lark, a ladybird, a bull- 
rush, a bone. From these he can go on to appreciate more complex forms or 
combinations of several forms. 


Since Gothic, European sculpture had become overgrown with moss, 
weeds all sorts of surface excrescences which completely concealed shape. 
It has been Brancusi's special mission to get rid of this overgrowth, and to 
make us once more shape-conscious. To do this he has had to concentrate on 
very simple direct shapes, to keep his sculpture, as it were, one-cylindered, 
to refine and polish a single shape to a degree almost too precious. Brancusi's 
work apart from its individual value has been of great historical importance 
in the development of contemporary sculpture. But it may now be no longer 
necessary to close down and restrict sculpture to the single (static) form 
unit. We can now begin to open out. To relate and combine together several 
forms of varied sizes, sections and direction, into one organic whole. 

Henry Moore 69 

Shells and pebbles being conditioned to respond to shapes 

Although it is the human figure which interests me most deeply, I have 
always paid great attention to natural forms, such as bones, shells, pebbles, 
etc. Sometimes, for several years running, I have been to the same part of the 
sea-shorebut each year a new shape of pebble has caught my eye, which 
the year before, though it was there in hundreds, I never saw. Out of the 
millions of pebbles passed in walking along the shore, I choose out to see 
with excitement only those which fit in with my existing form interest at the 
time. A different thing happens if I sit down and examine a handful one by 
one. I may then extend my form experience more by giving my mind time 
to become conditioned to a new shape. 

There are universal shapes to which everybody is subconsciously condi- 
tioned and to which they can respond if their conscious control does not shut 
them off. 

Holes in sculpture 

Pebbles show Nature's way of working stone. Some of the pebbles I pick 
up have holes right through them. 

When first working direct in a hard and brittle material like stone, the 
lack of experience and great respect for the material, the fear of ill-treating it, 
too often result in relief surface carving, with no sculptural power. 

But with more experience the completed work in stone can be kept within 
the limitations of its material, that is, not be weakened beyond its natural 
constructive build, and yet be turned from an inert mass into a composition 
which has a full form existence, with masses of varied sizes and sections 
working together in spatial relationship. 

A piece of stone can have a hole through it and not be weakened if the 
hole is of a studied size, shape and direction. On the principle of the arch it 
can remain just as strong. 

The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. 

The hole connects one side to the other, making it immediately more 

A hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass. 

Sculpture in air is possible, where the stone contains only the hole, which 
is the intended and considered form. 

The mystery of the hole the mysterious fascination of caves in hillsides 
and cliffs. 

Sizes and scale 

There is a right physical size for every idea. 
Pieces of good stone have stood about my studio for long periods, because, 

70 The Creative Process 

though I've had ideas which would fit their proportions and materials per- 
fectly, their size was wrong. 

There is a side to scale not to do with its actual physical size, its measure- 
ment in feet and inches but connected with vision. 

A carving might be several times over life size and yet be petty and small 
in feeling and a small carving only a few inches in height can give the 
feeling of huge size and monumental grandeur, because the vision behind it 
is big. Example: Michael Angelo's drawings or a Massacio madonna and 
the Albert Memorial. 

Yet actual physical size has an emotional meaning. We relate everything 
to our own size, and our emotional response to size is controlled by the fact 
that men on the average are between five and six feet high. 

An exact model to one-tenth scale of Stonehenge, where the stones would 
be less than us, would lose all its impressiveness. 

Sculpture is more affected by actual size considerations than painting. A 
painting is isolated by a frame from its surroundings (unless it serves just a 
decorative purpose), and so retains more easily its own imaginary scale. 

If practical considerations allowed me (cost of material, of transport, etc.) 
I should like to work on large carvings more often than I do. The average 
in-between size does not disconnect an idea enough from prosaic everyday 
life. The very small or the very large take on an added size emotion. 

Recently I have been working in the country, where, carving in the open 
air, I find sculpture more natural than in a London studio, but it needs 
bigger dimensions. A large piece of stone or wood placed almost anywhere 
at random in a field, orchard or garden, immediately looks right and in- 

Drawing and Sculpture 

My drawings are done mainly as a help towards making sculpture as a 
means of generating ideas for sculpture, tapping oneself for the initial idea; 
and as a way of sorting out ideas and developing them. 

Also, sculpture compared with drawing is a slow means of expression, 
and I find drawing a useful outlet for ideas which there is not time enough 
to realize as sculpture. And I use drawing as a method of study and observa- 
tion of natural form (drawings from life, drawings of bones, shells, etc.). 

And I sometimes draw just for its own enjoyment. 

Experience, though, has taught me that the difference there is between 
drawing and sculpture should not be forgotten. A sculptural idea which 
may be satisfactory as a drawing always needs some alteration when trans- 
lated into sculpture. 

At one time whenever I made drawings for sculpture I tried to give them 
as much the illusion of real sculpture as I could that is, I drew by the 

Henry Moore ji 

method of illusion, of light falling on a solid object. But now I find that 
carrying a drawing so far that it becomes a substitute for the sculpture either 
weakens the desire to do the sculpture, or is likely to make the sculpture only 
a dead realization of the drawing. 

I now leave a wider latitude in the interpretation of the drawings I make 
for sculpture, and draw often in line and flat tones without the light and 
shade illusion of three dimensions; but this does not mean that the vision 
behind the drawing is only two-dimensional. 

Abstraction and Surrealism 

The violent quarrel between the abstractionists and the surrealists seems 
to me quite unnecessary. All good art has contained both abstract and 
surrealist elements, just as it has contained both classical and romantic ele- 
ments order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and uncon- 
scious. Both sides of the artist's personality must play their part. And I think 
the first inception of a painting or a sculpture may begin from either end. As 
far as my own experience is concerned, I sometimes begin a drawing with 
no preconceived problem to solve, with only the desire to use pencil on paper, 
and make lines, tones and shapes with no conscious aim; but as my mind 
takes in what is so produced a point arrives where some idea becomes con- 
scious and crystallizes, and then a control and ordering begins to take place. 

Or sometimes I start with a set subject; or to solve, in a block of stone of 
known dimensions, a sculptural problem I've given myself, and then con- 
sciously attempt to build an ordered relationship of forms, which shall ex- 
press my idea. But if the work is to be more than just a sculptural exercise, 
unexplainable jumps in the process of thought occur; and the imagination 
plays its part. 

It might seem from what I have said of shape and form that I regard them 
as ends in themselves. Far from it. I am very much aware that associational, 
psychological factors play a large part in sculpture. The meaning and sig- 
nificance of form itself probably depends on the countless associations of 
man's history. For example, rounded forms convey an idea of fruitfulness, 
maturity, probably because the earth, women's breasts, and most fruits are 
rounded, and these shapes are important because they have this background 
in our habits of perception. I think the humanist organic element will always 
be for me of fundamental importance in sculpture, giving sculpture its 
vitality. Each particular carving I make takes on in my mind a human, or 
occasionally animal, character and personality, and this personality con- 
trols its design and formal qualities, and makes me satisfied or dissatisfied 
with the work as it develops. 

My own aim and direction seems to be consistent with these beliefs, 
though it does not depend upon them. My sculpture is becoming less repre- 

72 The Creative Process 

sentational, less an outward visual copy, and so what some people would call 
more abstract; but only because I believe that in this way I can present the 
human psychological content of my work with the greatest directness and 

From "Notes on Sculpture," by Henry Moore in The Painter's Object, by Myfanwy Evans. By 
permission of the publishers: John Lane the Bodley Head Limited, London. 

Henry Moore 73 



CHARGED as I frequently am with "freeing" the dance from music, the 
question often arises, what can be the source and basic structure of my own 
dancing. I cannot define its principles more clearly than to say that the 
fundamental idea of any creation arises in me or, rather, out of me as a 
completely independent dance theme. This theme, however primitive or 
obscure at first, already contains its own development and alone dictates its 
singular and logical sequence. What I feel as the germinal source of any 
dance may be compared perhaps to the melodic or rhythmic "subject" as it 
is first conceived by a composer, or to the compelling image that haunts a 
poet. But beyond that I can draw no parallels. In working out a dance I do 
not follow the models of any other art, nor have I evolved a general routine 
for my own. Each dance is unique and free, a separate organism whose form 
is self-determined. 

Neither is my dancing abstract, in intention at any rate, for its origin is not 
in the mind. If there is an abstract effect it is incidental. On the other hand 
my purpose is not to "interpret" the emotions. Grief, joy, fear, are terms too 

74 The Creative Process 

fixed and static to describe the sources of my work. My dances flow rather 
from certain states of being, different stages of vitality which release in me 
a varying play of the emotions, and in themselves dictate the distinguishing 
atmospheres of the dances. 

I can at this moment clearly recall the origin of my Festlicher Rhythmus. 
Coming back from the holidays, rested, restored by sun and fresh air, I was 
eager to begin dancing again. When I stepped into the studio and saw my 
co-workers there waiting for me, I beat my hands together and out of this 
spontaneous expression of happiness, of joy, the dance developed. 

My first tentative attempts to compose were made when I was studying 
the Dalcroze system. Though I have always had a strong feeling for music 
it seemed from the very start most natural for me to express my own nature 
by means of pure movement. Perhaps it was just because there was so much 
musical work to be done at that time, that all these little dances and dance 
studies took form without music. A German painter observing my modest 
experiments advised me to go to Munich and work with Von Laban who 
was also interested in such dancing. On Laban's system of gymnastics I 
founded my body technic; and during this period of apprenticeship I con- 
tinued the gradual evolution of my own work. 

After years of trial I have come to realize in a very final way, that for me 
the creation of a dance to music already written cannot be complete and 
satisfactory. I have danced with several of the great European orchestras, 
and to music (always generically dance music) old and new. I have even 
attempted to work out Hindemith's Daemon, and some compositions of 
Bartok, Kodaly, and other contemporaries. But while music easily evokes in 
me a dance reaction, it is in the development of the dance that a great diver- 
gence so often occurs. For usually a dance idea, a "theme," however inspired, 
by a state of feeling, or indirectly by musk, sets up independent reactions. 
The theme calls for its own development. It is in working this out that I 
find my dance parting company with the music. The parallel development 
of the dance with the already completely worked out musical idea is what 
I find in most instances to be functionally wrong. Each dance demands 
organic autonomy. 

So I have come gradually to feel my way toward a new re-integration of 
music with the dance. I do not create a dance and then order music written 
for it. As soon as I conceive a theme, and before it is completely defined, I 
call in my musical assistants. Catching my idea, and observing me for 
atmosphere, they begin to improvise with me. Every step of the development 
is built up co-operatively. Experiments are made with various instruments, 
accents, climaxes, until we feel the work has indissoluble unity. 

My Pastorale was developed in the following way: I came into my studio 
one day and sank down with a feeling of complete relaxation. Out of a 

Mary Wigman 75 

sense of deepest peace and quietude I began slowly to move my arms and 
body. Calling to my assistants I said, "I do not know if anything will come 
of this feeling, but I should like a reed instrument that would play over and 
over again a simple little tune, not at all important, always the same one." 
Then with the monotonous sound of the little tune, with its gentle lyric 
suggestion, the whole dance took form. Afterwards we found that it was 
built on six-eighths time, neither myself nor the musician being conscious of 
the rhythm until we came to the end. 

The monumental Totenmal which we presented in Munich last year was 
accompanied by a whole orchestra of percussion instruments. During the 
period of preparation these instruments were handled by dancers. The im- 
provisation of dancing and music was so dovetailed that in the long hours of 
practice the girls dancing constantly changed places with those making the 
music. The final result was one of the greatest possible harmony. In group 
creations, as in my individual work, movement and sound are always 
evolved together. 

Working with a group my effort is to seek out a common feeling. I present 
the main idea, each one improvises. No matter how wide the range of in- 
dividuality, I must find some common denominator from these different 
emanations of personality. Thus, on the rock of basic feeling, I slowly build 
each structure. 

Of course all that I have said here should be accepted as a very personal 
credo. I do not propose to erect a general system for I am a firm believer in 
individual freedom. Creative work will always assume new and varying 
forms. Any profound expression of self for which its creator assumes re- 
sponsibility in the most complete sense must give authentic impetus to a 
new or an old idea in art. 

From "Composition in Pure Movement," by Mary Wigman in Modern Music, January-February, 
1946. By permission of the author and the publishers of Modern Music: The League of Com- 
posers, New York City. 

76 The Creative Process 




LHIS WORTHLESS present was designed you long before it was a play; when 
it was only a confused mass of thoughts, tumbling over one another in the 
dark; when the fancy was yet in its first work, moving the sleeping images 
of things towards the light, there to be distinguished, and then either chosen 
or rejected by the judgment; it was yours, my lord, before I could call it 
mine. And, I confess, in that first tumult of my thoughts, there appeared a 
disorderly kind of beauty in some of them, which gave me hope, some- 
thing, worthy my lord of Orrery, might be drawn from them: But I was 
then in that eagerness of imagination, which, by overpleasing fanciful men, 
flatters them into the danger of writing; so that, when I had moulded it into 
that shape it now bears, I looked with such disgust upon it, that the censures 
of our severest critics are charitable to what I thought (and still think) of it 

The advantages which rhyme has over blank verse are so many, that it 

were lost time to name them But that benefit which I consider most in 

it, because I have not seldom found it, is, that it bounds and circumscribes 

John Dryden 77 

the fancy. For imagination in a poet is a faculty so wild and lawless, that, 
like an high-ranging spaniel, it must have clogs tied to it, lest it outrun the 
judgment. The great easiness of blank verse renders the poet too luxuriant; 
he is tempted to say many things, which might better be omitted, or at least 
shut up in fewer words; but when the difficulty of artful rhyming is inter- 
posed, where the poet commonly confines his sense to his couplet, and must 
contrive that sense into such words, that the rhyme shall naturally follow 
them, not they the rhyme; the fancy then gives leisure to the judgment to 
come in, which, seeing so heavy a tax imposed, is ready to cut off all un- 
necessary expenses. This last consideration has already answered an objec- 
tion which some have made, that rhyme is only an embroidery of sense, to 
make that, which is ordinary in itself, pass for excellent with less examina- 
tion. But certainly, that, which most regulates the fancy, and gives the 
judgment its busiest employment, is like to bring forth the richest and 
clearest thoughts. 

From "To the Right Honourable Roger, Earl of Orrery," dedicatory letter to "The Rival -Ladies," 
by John Dryden in The Worlds of John Dry den, revised and corrected by George Samtsbury. 
Croscup & Sterling Company, New York City. 

The Creative Process 

JeanCocteau : THE PROCESS OF 

'FTEN THE PUBLIC forms an idea of inspiration that is quite false, almost 
a religious notion. Alas! I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven. 
I think it rather the result of a profound indolence and of our incapacity to 
put to work certain forces in ourselves. These unknown forces work deep 
within us, with the aid of the elements of daily life, its scenes and passions, 
and, when they burden us and oblige us to conquer the kind of somnolence 
in which we indulge ourselves like invalids who try to prolong dream and 
dread resuming contact with reality, in short when the work that makes it- 
self in us and in spite of us demands to be born, we can believe that this work 
comes to us from beyond and is offered us by the gods. The artist is more 
slumberous in order that he shall not work. By a thousand ruses, he prevents 
his nocturnal work from coming to the light of day. 

For it is at this moment that consciousness must take precedence over the 
unconscious and that it becomes necessary to find the means which permit 
the unformed work to take form, to render it visible to all. To write, to 
conquer ink and paper, accumulate letters and paragraphs, divide them 

Jean Cocteau 79 

with periods and commas, is a different matter from carrying around the 
dream of a play or of a book. 

"More light" was the last phrase of Goethe. This phrase assumes meaning 
when one considers the struggle of Goethe against the shadow and that 
existence which he consecrated to clarifying the least recesses of his being 
and to repulsing the charm of the dog and the wolf. I bow before certain 
scenes of Faust, Part II, that of the fall of Euphorion, for example, in 
which Goethe reaches the state of grace, in full possession of himself. It 
would be inexact to accuse an artist of pride when he declares that his work 
requires somnambulism. The poet is at the disposal of his night. His role is 
humble, he must clean house and await its due visitation. 

The play that I am producing at the Theatre de PCEuvre, The Knights of 
the Round Table, is a visitation of this sort. I was sick and tired of writing, 
when one morning, after having slept poorly, I woke with a start and 
witnessed, as from a seat in a theater, three acts which brought to life an 
epoch and characters about which I had no documentary information and 
which I regarded moreover as forbidding. 

Long afterward, I succeeded in writing the play and I divined the cir- 
cumstances that must have served to incite me. 

Translated by Erewster Ghiselin 

From "Proces dc I'lnspiration," in Le Foyer des Artistes, by Jean Cocteau. By permission o the 
publishers: Librairie Plon, Les Petits-Fils de Plon et Nourrit, Paris. 

80 The Creative Process 

William Wordsworth : PREFACETOSECOND 


/HAT is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language 
is to be expected from him? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is 
true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, 
who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive 
soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with 
his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in 
the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions 
and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually 
impelled to create them where he does not find them. To these qualities he 
has added a disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things 
as if they were present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which 
are indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events, yet 
(especially in those parts of the general sympathy which are pleasing and 
delightful) do more nearly resemble the passions produced by real events, 
than anything which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other 
men are accustomed to feel in themselves r-^-whence, and from practice, he 

William Wordsworth 81 

has acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and 
feels, and especially those thoughts and feelings which, by his own choice, 
or from the structure of his own mind, arise in him without immediate ex- 
ternal excitement 

Not that I always began to write with a distinct purpose formally con- 
ceived; but habits of meditation have, I trust, so prompted and regulated my 
feelings, that my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those feelings, 
will be found to carry along with them a purpose. If this opinion be er- 
roneous, I can have little right to the name of a Poet. For all good poetry is 
the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, 
Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any 
variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual 
organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. For our continued 
influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are 
indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and as, by contemplating 
the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what 
is really important to men, so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, 
our feelings will be connected with important subjects, till at length, if we 
be originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be 
produced, that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those 
habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and 
in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the reader 
must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strength- 
ened and purified. . . . 

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it 
takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is con- 
templated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, 
and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contempla- 
tion, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this 
mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this 
it is carried on 

From "Preface to the Second Edition of Several of the Foregoing Poems, Published, with an 
Additional Volume, under the Title of 'Lyrical Ballads,' " by William Wordsworth in The 
Complete Poetical Worths of William Wordsworth, with an introduction by John Morley. 
Macmillan and Company, 1 895, London and New York City. 

82 The Creative Process 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge : PREFATORY NOTE 



HE FOLLOWING fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great 
and deserved celebrity, and, as far as the Author's own opinions are con- 
cerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any sup- 
posed poetic merits. 

In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired 
to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines 
of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an 
anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his 
chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of 
the same substance, in "Purchas's Pilgrimage" : "Here the Khan Kubla com- 
manded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten 
miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall." The Author continued 

This account of the composition of "Kubla Khan" should be compared with another, perhaps 
earlier, statement by Coleridge: "This fragment with a good deal more, not recoverable, com- 
posed in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium, taken to check a dysentery, 
at a Farm House between Porlock and Linton, a quarter of a mile from Culbone Church, in 
the fall of the year 1797." 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 83 

for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, 
during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have 
composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be 
called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with 
a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensa- 
tion or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a 
distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, in- 
stantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this 
moment he was unfortuantely called out by a person on business from 
Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, 
found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still re- 
tained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, 
yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all 
the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into 
which a stone has been cast, but alas! without the after restoration of the 

Then all the charm 

Is broken all that phantom-world so fair 
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread, 
And each misshape the other. Stay awhile, 
Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes 
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon 
The visions will return! And lo, he stays, 
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms 
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more 
The pool becomes a mirror. 

Yet from the still surviving recollections in his mind, the Author has 
frequently purposed to finish for himself what had been originally, as it 
were, given to him. Sa/zepo*' adcop a<rco: but the tomorrow is yet to come. 

From the prefatory note to "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The "Poetical Wor\s 
of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by James Dykes Campbell. Macmillan and Company, 1 895, 
London and New York City. 

84 The Creative Process 




LEANING is of the intellect, poetry is not. If it were, the eighteenth 
century would have been able to write it better. As matters actually stand, 
who are the English poets of that age in whom pre-eminently one can hear 
and recognise the true poetic accent emerging clearly from the contemporary 
dialect? These four: Collins, Christopher Smart, Cowper, and Blake. And 
what other characteristic had these four in common ? They were mad. Re- 
member Plato: 'He who without the Muses' madness in his soul comes 
knocking at the door of poesy and thinks that art will make him anything 
fit to be called a poet, finds that the poetry which he indites in his sober 
senses is beaten hollow by the poetry of madmen.' 

That the intellect is not the fount of poetry, that it may actually hinder its 
production, and that it cannot even be trusted to recognise poetry when 
produced, is best seen in the case of Smart. Neither the prize founded in this 
University by the Rev. Thomas Seaton nor the successive contemplation of 
five several attributes of the Supreme Being could incite him to good poetry 
while he was sane. The only poem by which he is remembered, a poem 

A. E. Housman 85 

which came to its own in the kinder climate of the nineteenth century and 
has inspired one of the best poems of the twentieth, was written, if not, as 
tradition says, in actual confinement, at any rate very soon after release; and 
when the eighteenth century, the age of sanity and intelligence, collected his 
poetical works, it excluded this piece as 'bearing melancholy proofs of the 
recent estrangement of his mind.' 

Collins and Cowper, though they saw the inside of madhouses, are not 
supposed to have written any of their poetry there; and Blake was never 
mad enough to be locked up. But elements of their nature were more or less 
insurgent against the centralised tyranny of the intellect, and their brains 
were not thrones on which the great usurper could sit secure. And so it 
strangely came to pass that in the eighteenth century, the age of prose and 
of unsound or unsatisfying poetry, there sprang up one well of the purest 
inspiration. For me the most poetical of all poets is Blake. I find his lyrical 
note as beautiful as Shakespeare's and more beautiful than anyone else's; 
and I call him more poetical than Shakespeare, even though Shakespeare has 
so much more poetry, because poetry in him preponderates more than in 
Shakespeare over everything else, and instead of being confounded in a 
great river can be drunk pure from a slender channel of its own. Shakespeare 
is rich in thought, and his meaning has power of itself to move us, even if 
the poetry were not there: Blake's meaning is often unimportant or virtually 
non-existent, so that we can listen with all our hearing to his celestial tune. 

Even Shakespeare, who had so much to say, would sometimes pour out 
his loveliest poetry in saying nothing. 

Take O take those lips away 

That so sweetly were forsworn, 
And those eyes, the break of day, 

Lights that do mislead the morn; 
But my kisses bring again, 

bring again, 
Seals of love, but seal'd in vain, 

seal'd in vain. 

That is nonsense; but it is ravishing poetry. When Shakespeare fills such 
poetry with thought, and thought which is worthy of it, as in Fear no more 
the heat o' the sun or mistress mine, where art thou roaming? those songs, 
the very summits of lyrical achievement, are indeed greater and more mov- 
ing poems, but I hardly know how to call them more poetical. 

Now Blake again and again, as Shakespeare now and then, gives us poetry 
neat, or adulterated with so little meaning that nothing except poetic emo- 
tion is perceived and matters. 

86 The Creative Process 

Hear the voice of the Bard, 
Who present, past, and future sees; 

Whose ears have heard 

The Holy Word 
That walk'd among the ancient trees. 

Calling the lapsed soul 

And weeping in the evening dew; 
That might control 
The starry pole, 

And fallen, fallen light renew. 

'O Earth, O Earth, return! 

Arise from out the dewy grass ; 
Night is worn, 
And the morn 

Rises from the slumberous mass. 

'Turn away no more; 

Why wilt thou turn away ? 
The starry floor, 
The watery shore 

Is giv'n thee till the break of day/ 

That mysterious grandeur would be less grand if it were less mysterious; 
if the embryo ideas which are all that it contains should endue form and 
outline, and suggestion condense itself into thought. 

Memory, hither come 

And tune your merry notes; 
And while upon the wind 

Your music floats 

I'll pore upon the stream 
Where sighing lovers dream, 
And fish for fancies as they pass 
Within the watery glass. 

That answers to nothing real; memory's merry notes and the rest are empty 
phrases, not things to be imagined; the stanza does but entangle the reader 
in a net of thoughtless delight. The verses which I am now going to read 

A. E. Housman 87 

probably possessed for Blake a meaning, and his students think that they 
have found it; but the meaning is a poor foolish disappointing thing in 
comparison with the verses themselves. 

My Spectre around me night and day 
Like a wild beast guards my way; 
My Emanation far within 
Weeps incessantly for my sin. 

A fathomless and boundless deep, 
There we wander, there we weep; 
On the hungry craving wind 
My Spectre follows thee behind. 

He scents thy footsteps in the snow 
Wheresoever thou dost go: 
Through the wintry hail and rain 
When wilt thou return again ? 

Dost thou not in pride and scorn 
Fill with tempests all my morn, 
And with jealousies and fears 
Fill my pleasant nights with tears ? 

Seven of my sweet loves thy knife 
Has bereaved of their life. 
Their marble tombs I built with tears 
And with cold and shuddering fears. 

Seven more loves weep night and day 
Round the tombs where my loves lay, 
And seven more loves attend each night 
Around my couch with torches bright. 

And seven more loves in my bed 
Crown with wine my mournful head, 
Pitying and forgiving all 
Thy transgressions great and small. 

When wilt thou return and view 
My loves, and them to life renew ? 
When wilt thou return and live? 
.When wilt thou pity as I forgive ? 

88 The Creative Process 

I am not equal to framing definite ideas which would match that magnifi- 
cent versification and correspond to the strong tremor of unreasonable ex- 
citement which those words set up in some region deeper than the mind. 
Lastly take this stanza, addressed 'to the Accuser who is the God of this 

Tho' thou art worship'd by the names divine 

Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still 
The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline, 
The lost traveller's dream under the hill. 

It purports to be theology: what theological sense, if any, it may have, I 
cannot imagine and feel no wish to learn : it is pure and self-existent poetry, 
which leaves no room in me for anything besides. 

In most poets, as I said, poetry is less often found thus disengaged from 
its usual concomitants, from certain things with which it naturally unites 
itself and seems to blend indistinguishably. For instance: 

Sorrow, that is not sorrow, but delight; ) 

And miserable love, that is not pain 
To hear of, for the glory that redounds 
Therefrom to human kind, and what we are. 

The feeling with which those lines are read is composite, for one constituent 
is supplied by the depth and penetrating truth of the thought. Again: 

Though love repine and reason chafe, 
There came a voice without reply, 
' 'Tis man's perdition to be safe, 

When for the truth he ought to die.* 

Much of the emotion kindled by that verse can be referred to the nobility 
of the sentiment. But in these six simple words of Milton 

Nymphs and shepherds, dance no more 

what is it that can draw tears, as I know it can, to the eyes of more readers 
than one? What in the world is there to cry about? Why have the mere 
words the physical effect of pathos when the sense of the passage is blithe 
and gay ? I can only say, because they are poetry, and find their way to some- 
thing in man which is obscure and latent, something older than the present 
organisation of his nature, like the patches of fen which still linger here 
and there in the drained lands of Cambridgeshire. 

A. E. Housman 89 

Poetry indeed seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or two 
ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I 
would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a 
terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognised the object by 
the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was de- 
scribed in connexion with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: *A spirit 
passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up. 5 Experience has taught 
me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, 
because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that 
the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver 
down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the 
throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which 
I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keats's last letters, 
where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne, 'everything that reminds me of 
her goes through me like a spear.' The seat of this sensation is the pit of the 

My opinions on poetry are necessarily tinged, perhaps I should say 
tainted, by the circumstance that I have come into contact with it on two 
sides. We were saying a while ago that poetry is a very wide term, and 
inconveniently comprehensive: so comprehensive is it that it embraces two 
books, fortunately not large ones, of my own. I know how this stuff came 
into existence; and though I have no right to assume that any other poetry 
came into existence in the same way, yet I find reason to believe that some 
poetry, and quite good poetry, did. Wordsworth for instance says that poetry 
is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, and Burns has left us this 
confession, C I have two or three times in my life composed from the wish 
rather than the impulse, but I never succeeded to any purpose.' In short I 
think that the production of poetry, in its first stage, is less an active than 
a passive and involuntary process; and if I were obliged, not to define 
poetry, but to name the class of things to which it belongs, I should call it a 
secretion; whether a natural secretion, like turpentine in the fir, or a morbid 
secretion, like the pearl in the oyster. I think that my own case, though I 
may not deal with the material so cleverly as the oyster does, is the latter; 
because I have seldom written poetry unless I was rather out of health, and 
the experience, though pleasurable, was generally agitating and exhausting. 
If only that you may know what to avoid, I will give some account of the 

Having drunk a pint of beer at luncheon beer is a sedative to the brain, 
and my afternoons are the least intellectual portion of my life I would 
go out for a walk of two or three hours. As I went along, thinking of noth- 
ing in particular, only looking at things around me and following the 
progress of the seasons, there would flow into my mind, with sudden and 

QO The Creative Process 

unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole 
stanza at once, accompanied, not preceded, by a vague notion of the poem 
which they were destined to form part of. Then there would usually be a 
lull of an hour or so, then perhaps the spring would bubble up again. I say 
bubble up, because, so far as I could make out, the source of the suggestions 
thus proffered to the brain was an abyss which I have already had occasion 
to mention, the pit of the stomach. When I got home I wrote them down, 
leaving gaps, and hoping that further inspiration might be forthcoming 
another day. Sometimes it was, if I took my walks in a receptive and ex- 
pectant frame of mind; but sometimes the poem had to be taken in hand 
and completed by the brain, which was apt to be a matter of trouble and 
anxiety, involving trial and disappointment, and sometimes ending in 
failure. I happen to remember distinctly the genesis of the piece which 
stands last in my first volume. Two of the stanzas, I do not say which, came 
into my head, just as they are printed, while I was crossing the corner of 
Hampstead Heath between the Spaniard's Inn and the footpath to Temple 
Fortune. A third stanza came with a little coaxing after tea. One more was 
needed, but it did not come: I had to turn to and compose it myself, and 
that was a laborious business. I wrote it thirteen times, and it was more 
than a twelvemonth before I got it right. 

From The Name and Nature of Poetry, by A. E. Housman. By permission of the publishers: 
Cambridge University Press, American Branch, New York City. 

A. E. Housman gi 



LY FIRST CONCERN must be to explain the word "Poetics" which I have 
restored to its quite primitive sense, not that now in use. It came to mind 
and seemed to me the only proper one to designate the kind of study I pro- 
pose to carry on in this Course. 

This term is ordinarily taken to mean any account or collection of rules, 
conventions, or precepts dealing with the composition of lyric or dramatic 
poems, or even the making of verse. But we may find that the word has 
grown far enough out of use in this sense, along with the thing it names, 
to be given another. 

Not very long ago, all the arts were subject, each according to its nature, 
to certain obligatory forms or modes imposed on all works of the same 
genre; these could be and had to be learned, as we do the syntax of a lan- 
guage. It was not thought that the effect a work might produce, however 
powerful or happy, was enough to justify the work and assure it a universal 
value. The fact did not carry with it the right. It had been recognized very 
early that there were, in each of the arts, practices to be recommended, ob- 

92 The Creative Process 

servances and restrictions which best favor the success of an artist's purpose, 
and which it was to his own interest to know and respect. 

But gradually, and on the authority of very great men, the idea of a sort 
of legality crept in and took the place of what had been, at first, recommen- 
dations of empirical origin. Reason put rigor into the rules. They were 
expressed in precise formulas; the critic armed himself with them; and this 
paradoxical result followed, that an artistic discipline which set up reasoned 
difficulties in the way of the artist's impulses came into great and lasting 
favor because of the extreme facility it offered in judging and classifying 
works, by simple reference to a code or well defined canon. 

These formal rules offered a further facility to those who wished to pro- 
duce works. Very strict and even very severe conditions relieve the artist of 
a number of the most delicate decisions and of many responsibilities in the 
matter of form, while they sometimes excite him to discoveries to which 
complete freedom could never have led him. 

But whether we deplore or rejoice at the fact, the era of authority in the 
arts is rather long since past, and the word "Poetics" now arouses in us 
scarcely more than the notion of troublesome and old-fashioned rules. For 
that reason I have thought it possible to recover the word in a sense derived 
from its etymology, although I have not dared to pronounce it Poietics, as 
the physiologists do when they speak of hematopoietic or galactopoietic 
functions. Rather it is in short the quite simple notion of making that I 
wish to express. The making, the poiein, that I wish to consider is the kind 
that results in some finished work; I shall shortly limit it to the kind of 
works we have agreed to call wor\s of the mind. I mean those which the 
mind likes to make for its own use, employing to that end any physical 
means that can serve. 

Like the simple act of which I have just spoken, any work may or may 
not lead us to meditate on the process of its creation, may or may not give 
rise to a more or less pronounced, more or less exacting attitude of inquiry, 
which makes of creation itself a problem. 

Such a study does not force itself upon us. We may think it is vain, and 
we may even consider my claim fanciful. Furthermore: certain minds will 
find it not only vain but harmful; and they may even owe it to themselves 
to find it so. One can imagine for example that a poet may legitimately fear 
that he might undermine his original powers, or his immediate produc- 
tivity, by making an analysis of them. He instinctively refuses to plumb 
their depths otherwise than through the exercise of his art; he refuses to 
master them by demonstrative reason. It is credible that our simplest act, 
our most familiar gesture could not be performed, that the least of our 
powers might become an obstacle to us if we had to brimg it before the mind 
and know it thoroughly in order to exercise it. 

Paul Valcry 93 

Achilles cannot win over the tortoise if he meditates on space and time. 

On the contrary, however, it may happen that we take such keen interest 
in this inquiry and that we attach such high importance to its pursuit, that 
we may be brought to consider with more satisfaction, and even with more 
passion, the act of making than the thing made. 

It is on this point, Gentlemen, that my undertaking must necessarily be 
distinguished from that carried on by Literary History on the one hand, and 
on the other by textual and literary Criticism. 

Literary History looks for the outwardly verified circumstances in which 
works were composed, appeared, and produced their effects. It informs us 
about authors, about the vicissitudes of their life and their work, in so far 
as these are visible things which have left traces that may be discovered, co- 
ordinated, and interpreted. It collects traditions and documents. 

I do not need to remind you with what erudition and originality of views 
such a course was professed from this very chair by your eminent colleague 
M. Abel Lefranc. But a knowledge of authors and their times, a study of 
the succession of literary phenomena can only excite us to conjecture what 
may have happened in the minds of those who have done what was neces- 
sary to get themselves inscribed in the annals of the History of Letters. If 
they succeeded in doing so, it was through the concurrence of two condi- 
tions which may always be considered as independent: one is necessarily the 
production of the work itself, the other is the production of a certain value 
in the work by those who have known and liked it once it is produced, those 
who have enforced its reputation and assured its transmission, its conserva- 
tion, its ulterior life. 

I have just pronounced the words "value'* and "production." I shall dwell 
on them for a moment. 

If we would undertake to explore the domain of the creative mind, we 
must not be afraid to stand, at first, on the most general considerations, since 
they are the ones that will allow us to advance without having to retrace 
our steps too often, and will offer us the greatest number of analogies, that 
is the greatest number of approximate expressions for the description of 
facts and ideas which most often, by their very nature, escape any attempt 
at direct definition. That is why I call attention to borrowing a few words 
from Economics: I shall perhaps find it convenient to assemble under the 
single terms production and producer the various activities and persons that 
will occupy us, if we wish to treat what they have in common without dis- 
tinguishing between their different kinds. It will be no less convenient, 
without specifying whether we are speaking of reader or hearer or specta- 
tor, to combine all these participants in works of all kinds under the eco- 
nomic term consumer. 

As for the notion of value, we are well aware that in the world of the 

94 The Creative Process 

mind it plays a role of the first order, comparable to the one it plays in the 
economic world, although spiritual value is much more subtle than eco- 
nomic since it is bound up with needs infinitely more varied, and not 
measurable as the needs of our physiological life are. The Iliad is still known, 
and gold has remained for so many centuries a more or less simple but 
rather remarkable and generally venerated substance, for the reason that 
rarity, inimitability, and a few other properties distinguish gold and the 
Iliad, making of them privileged objects, standards of value. 

Without insisting on my economic comparison, it is clear that the idea 
of work, and such ideas as the creation and accumulation of wealth, or 
supply and demand, occur quite naturally in the domain that concerns us. 

As much by their similarity as by their different uses, these notions under 
the same names remind us that in two orders of facts which seem very dis- 
tinct from one another, problems of the relation of persons to their social 
milieu arise. Besides, just as there is an economic analogy, and for the same 
reason, there is also a political analogy between the phenomena of organized 
intellectual life and those of public life. There is a whole policy of intel- 
lectual power, an internal policy -(quite internal, of course), and an external 
policy, the latter falling within the province of Literary History, of which 
it should form one of the principal objects. 

Politics and economics thus generalized are notions that, from the first 
moment we look at the world of the mind, when we still might expect to 
consider it a system perfectly isolable during the phase of creating its works, 
are necessary notions, and seem profoundly present in most of the mind's 
creations, and always hovering in the vicinity of its acts. 

At the very heart of the scholar's or artist's thought, even the one most 
absorbed in his search, who seems most confined to his own sphere and face 
to face with what is most self and most impersonal, there is present some 
strange anticipation of the external reactions to be provoked by the work 
now in the making: it is difficult for a man to be alone. 

The effect of this presence can always be assumed, without fear of error; 
but it may be combined so subtly with other factors of the work, sometimes 
so well disguised, that it is almost impossible to isolate it. 

Nevertheless, we know that the real meaning of a certain choice or a cer- 
tain effort on the part of a creator often lies outside the work itself, and is 
the result of a more or less conscious concern with the effect to be produced 
and with its consequences for the producer. Thus, while it is at work, the 
mind is constantly going and coming from Self to Other; what its inner- 
most being produces is modified by a peculiar awareness of the judgment of 
others. Therefore, in our reflection on a work, we may take one or the other 
of these two mutually exclusive attitudes. If we mean to proceed with as 
much rigor as such a subject allows, we must require ourselves to distin- 

Paul Valery 95 

guish very carefully between investigation into the creation of a work and 
study of the production of its value, that is the effects it may produce here 
or there, in such and such a head, at such and such a time. To demonstrate 
this point, it is sufficient to remark that what we can really know or think 
we know, in any domain, is nothing else than what we can either observe 
or do, ourselves, and that it is impossible to bring together in one and the 
same condition, and in one and the same attention, the observation of the 
mind that produces the work and the observation of the mind that produces 
a certain value in the work. No eye is capable of observing both these func- 
tions at once; producer and consumer are two essentially separate systems. 
The work is for one the terminus, for the other the origin of developments 
which may be as foreign as you please to one another. 

We must conclude that any judgment that announces a relation in three 
terms between the producer, the work and the consumer and judgments 
of this kind are not rare in criticism is an illusory judgment which can 
have no meaning and which is immediately destroyed by the slightest re- 
flection. We can only consider the work's relation to its producer, or on 
the other hand its relation to the one whom it affects once it is made. The 
action of the first and the reaction of the second can never meet. The idea 
each has of the work is incompatible with the other's. 

Hence arise very frequent surprises, a few of which are advantageous. 
There are mistakes that are creative. There are many effects and among 
them the most powerful which require the absence of any direct corre- 
spondence between the two activities concerned. A certain work, for ex- 
ample, is the fruit of long labor; it combines a large number of trials, 
repetitions, rejections, and choices. It has taken months, even years of re- 
flection, and it may also presuppose the experience and attainments of a 
whole lifetime. Now, the effect of this work may take no more than a few 
moments to declare itself. A glance will suffice to appreciate a considerable 
monument, to feel its shock. In two hours all the calculations of the tragic 
poet, all the labor he has spent in ordering the effects of his play, shaping 
every line of it one by one; or again, all the harmonic and orchestral com- 
binations contrived by the composer; or all the meditations of the philoso- 
pher, the long years he has put into curbing, controlling, withholding his 
thought until he could perceive and accept its definitive order, all these acts 
of faith, all these acts of choice, all these mental transactions finally reach 
the stage of the finished work, to strike, astonish, dazzle or disconcert the 
mind of the Other, who is suddenly subjected to the excitement of this 
enormous charge of intellectual labor. All this makes a disproportionate act. 

One may (very roughly, of course) compare this effect to the fall, in a few 
seconds, of a mass which had been carried up, piece by piece, to the top of 
a tower without regard to the time or the number of trips. 

96 The Creative Process 

It is in this way that we get the impression of superhuman power. But 
as you know, the effect does not always come off; it sometimes happens, in 
intellectual mechanics, that the tower is too high, or the mass too great, and 
we get a negative result, or none at all. 

Let us suppose, however, that the big effect comes off. Those persons who 
have felt it, those who have been, if you will, overwhelmed by its power and 
perfections, by the large number of lucky strokes, the piling up of happy 
surprises, cannot, and in fact must not imagine all the internal labor, the 
possibilities discarded, the long process of picking out suitable components, 
the delicate reasoning whose conclusions appear to be reached by magic, in 
a word, the amount of inner life treated by the chemist of the creative mind, 
or sorted out of mental chaos by some Maxwellian demon; and so those 
same persons are led to imagine a being of great powers, capable of working 
all these wonders with no more effort than it takes to do anything at all. 

What the work produces in us, then, is incommensurable with our own 
powers of immediate production. Besides, certain elements of the work 
which have come to the author by some happy chance may be attributed to a 
singular virtue of his mind. In this way the consumer becomes a producer in 
his turn: at first, a producer of the value of the work; and next, because he 
immediately applies the principal of causality (which at bottom is only a 
naive expression of one of the mind's modes of production), he becomes 
a producer of the value of the imaginary being who made the thing he 

Perhaps if great men were as conscious as they are great there would be 
no great men in their own eyes. 

Thus, and this is what I have been coming to, this example, although very 
special, shows us that for works to have their effects, the producer and the 
consumer must each be independent or ignorant of the other's thoughts and 
conditions. The secrecy and surprise which tactitians often recommend in 
their writings are here naturally assured. 

To sum up, when we speak of works of the mind, we mean either the 
terminus of a certain activity or the origin of a certain other activity, and 
that makes two orders of incommunicable effects, each of which requires 
of us a special adaptation incompatible with the other. 

What remains is the work itself, as a tangible thing. This is a third con- 
sideration, quite different from the other two. 

We shall now regard a work as an object, as pure object, that is to say 
without putting into it any more of ourselves than may apply indifferently 
to all objects: an attitude clearly marked by the absence of any production 
of value. 

What can we do to this object which, this time, can do nothing to us? 
But we can do something to it. We can measure it according to its spacial 

Paul VaUry 97 

or temporal nature; we can count the words in a text or the syllables in a 
line; we can confirm that a certain book appeared at a certain date; that a 
certain picture is a copy of a certain other; that there is a half line of Lamar- 
tine to be found in Thomas, or that a certain page of Victor Hugo has, ever 
since 1645, belonged to an obscure Father Francis. We may note that a 
certain piece of reasoning is a fallacy, that this sonnet is incorrect; that the 
drawing of that arm is in defiance of anatomy, and that a certain use of 
words is strange. All this is the result of operations that may be classed as 
purely material operations since they amount to ways of superimposing 
the work, or fragments of the work, upon some model. 

This treatment of works of the mind does not distinguish them from all 
other possible works. It places them and keeps them in the order of things, 
and imposes upon them a defined existence. That is the point to remember: 

All that we can define is at once set off from the producing mind, in 
opposition to it. The mind turns whatever it defines into matter it can 
work on, or a tool it can work with. 

Whatever it has clearly defined, the mind places out of its own reach, and 
in so doing, shows that it knows itself and that it trusts only what is not 

These distinctions in the notion of a work which I have just proposed to 
you, and which divide it, not in any search for subtlety but by the easiest 
sort of reference to immediate observation, aim to bring out the idea which 
is now going to serve to introduce my analysis of the production of works 
of the mind. 

All that I have said so far may be condensed into these few words: tuor\s 
of the mind exist only in action. Beyond this action, what remains is only 
an object that has no particular relation to the mind. Transport the statue 
you admire among a people sufficiently different from your own, and it 
becomes an insignificant stone. The Parthenon is only a small quarry of 
marble. And when the text of a poet is used as a collection of grammatical 
difficulties, or examples, it ceases at once to be a tuorJ^ of the mind, since the 
use to which it is put is entirely foreign to the conditions of its creation, and 
since in addition it is denied the consumer value that gives meaning to 
such a work. 

A poem on paper is nothing more than a piece of writing that may be 
used for anything that can be done with a piece o writing. But among all 
its possibilities there is one, and only one, which can finally put this text 
under cdnditions that will give it the force and form of action. A poem is 
a discourse that requires and sustains continuous connection between the 
voice that is and the voice that is coming and must come. And this voice 
must be such that it seems prescribed and excites the affective state of which 
the text itself is the unique verbal expression. Take away the voice and the 

98 The Creative Process 

voice required, and everything becomes arbitrary. The poem is changed 
into a sequence of signs held together only by the fact that they have been 
traced on paper one after another. 

For these reasons I shall not cease to condemn the detestable practice of 
misusing those works best fitted to create and develop a feeling for poetry 
among young people, the practice of treating poems as things, of chopping 
them up as if their composition were nothing, of allowing if not requiring 
them to be recited in the way you have all heard, to be used as memory or 
spelling tests; in a word, of abstracting the essence of these works, that 
which makes them what they are and not something else, that which gives 
them their own quality and necessity. 

It is the performance of the poem which is the poem. Without this, these 
rows of curiously assembled words are but inexplicable fabrications. 

Works of the mind, poems or other, can be related only to that which 
gives birth to that which gave them birth themselves, and to absolutely noth- 
ing else. No doubt, divergencies may arise among the poetic interpretations 
of a poem, among the impressions and meanings, or rather among the 
resonances provoked in one or another reader by the action of the work. 
But now this banal remark, upon reflection, must take on an importance 
of the first order: the possible diversity of legitimate effects of a work is the 
very mark of the mind. It corresponds, moreover, to the plurality of ways 
that occurred to the author during his labor of production. The fact is that 
every act of the mind itself is always somehow accompanied by a certain 
more or less perceptible atmosphere of indetermination. 

I must beg you to excuse this expression. I do not find a better. 

Let us imagine ourselves in a state of transport from a work of art, one 
of those works which compel us to desire them all the more, the more we 
possess them, or the more they possess us. We now find ourselves divided 
between feelings arising in remarkable alternation and contrast. We feel 
on the one hand that the work acting upon us suits us so well that we can- 
not imagine it as different. In certain cases of supreme satisfaction, we 
even feel that we are being transformed in some profound way, becoming 
someone whose sensibility is capable of such fullness of delight and imme- 
diate comprehension. But we feel no less strongly, and as it were through 
some quite other sense, that the phenomenon which causes and develops 
this state in us, inflicts its power upon us, might not have been, and even 
ought not to have been, and is in fact improbable. 

All the while that our enjoyment or our joy is real, real as a fact, the 
existence and formation of the means (that is, the work which generates 
our sensation) seem to us accidental. Its existence appears to be the result 
of some extraordinary chance, or some sumptuous gift of fortune, and it is 
in this (let us not forget to remark) that a particular analogy may be found 

Paul Val&y 99 

between the effect of a work of art and that of certain aspects of nature: 
some geological feature, or a fleeting combination of light and vapor in the 
evening sky. 

At times we are unable to imagine that a certain man, like one of us, 
could be the author of so extraordinary a blessing, and the glory we give 
him is the expression of our inability. 

But whatever details may go into those games or dramas played in the 
mind of the producer, all must be brought to completion in the visible work 
and find in this very fact a final and absolute determination. This end is 
the outcome of a succession of inner changes which are as disordered as you 
please but which must necessarily be reconciled at the moment when the 
hand moves to write, under one unique command, whether happy or not. 
Now this hand, this external act, necessarily resolves for better or worse that 
state of indetermination of which I spoke. The producing mind seems to 
be elsewhere, seeking to impress upon its work a character quite different 
from its own. In a finished work, it hopes to escape the instability, the in- 
coherence, the inconsequence which it recognizes in itself and which con- 
stitute its most frequent condition. To that end, it counters interruptions 
from every direction and of every kind which it must undergo at every 
moment. It absorbs an infinite variety of incidents; it rejects any substitu- 
tions of image, sensation, impulse, and idea that cut across other ideas. It 
struggles against what it is obliged to accept, produce, or express; in short, 
against its own nature and its accidental and instantaneous activity. 

During its meditation it hums around its own center. The least thing is 
enough to divert it. St. Bernard observes: Odoratus impedit cogitationem. 
Even in the best head, contradiction is the rule, correct sequence is the ex- 
ception. And this very correctness is a logician's artifice, an artifice which, 
like all others which the mind contrives against itself, consists in giving 
material shape to the elements of thought, which it calls "concepts," turning 
them into circles and domains, thus conferring upon these intellectual ob- 
jects a duration independent of the vicissitudes of the mind; for logic after 
all is only a speculation on the permanence of notations. 

But here is a very astonishing situation: the dispersion always threatening 
the mind contributes almost as importantly to the production of the work 
as concentration itself. The mind at work, struggling against its own mo- 
bility, against its own constitutional restlessness and diversity, against the 
dissipation or natural decay of any specialized attitude, on the other hand 
finds incomparable resources in this very condition itself. The instability, 
incoherence, inconsequence of which I spoke, which trouble and limit the 
mind in any sustained effort of construction or composition, are just as 
surely also treasures of possibility, whose riches it senses in its vicinity at 
the very moment when it is consulting itself. These are the mind's reserves, 

zoo The Creative Process 

from which anything may come, its reasons for hoping that the solution, 
the signal, the image, or the missing word may be nearer at hand than it 
seems. The mind can always feel in the darkness around it the truth or the 
decision it is looking for, which it knows to be at the mercy of the slighest 
thing, of that very meaningless disorder which seemed to divert it and 
banish it indefinitely. 

Sometimes what we wish to see appear to our minds (even a simple 
memory) is like some precious object we might hold and feel of through 
a wrapping of cloth that hides it from our eyes. It is and is not ours, and the 
least incident may reveal it. Sometimes we invoke what ought to exist, hav- 
ing defined it by its conditions. We demand it, being faced with some 
peculiar combination of elements all equally imminent to the mind and yet 
no one of which will stand out and satisfy our need. We beg of our minds 
some show of inequality. We hold up our desire before the mind as one 
places a magnet over a composite mixture of dust from which a particle of 
iron will suddenly jump out. In the order of mental things, there seem to 
be certain very mysterious relations between the desire and the event. I do 
not wish to say that the mind's desire creates a sort of field, much more com- 
plex than a magnetic field, which might have the power to call up what suits 
us. This image is only one way of expressing a fact of observation to which I 
shall return later. But however clear, evident, forceful, or beautiful the 
spiritual event may be which terminates our expectation, completes our 
thought, or removes our doubt, still nothing is irrevocable. Here, the 
moment to come has absolute power over what the preceding moment 
produces. That is because the mind when reduced to its own sole substance 
does not have the power to finish, and absolutely cannot bind itself by itself. 

When we say that our opinion on a certain point is definitive, we say this 
in order to make it so: we have recourse to others. The sound of our voice is 
much more assuring to us than the firm inner remark which our voice pre- 
tends, aloud, that we have formed. When we think we have completed a 
certain thought, we never feel sure that we could come back to it without 
either improving or spoiling what we had finished. It is in this that the life 
of the mind is divided against itself as soon as it sets to work. Every work 
requires acts of will (although it always includes a number of components 
in which what we call the will has no part). But when our will, our ex- 
pressed power, tries to turn upon the mind itself and make it obey, the result 
is always a simple arrest, the maintenance or perhaps the renewal of certain 

In fact, we can act directly only upon the freedom of the mind's processes. 
We can lessen the degree of that freedom, but as for the rest, I mean as for 
the changes and substitutions still possible under our constraint, we must 

Paul Valery 101 

simply wait until what we desire appears, because that is all we can do. We 
have no means of getting exactly what we wish from ourselves. 

For that exactness, or desired result, is of the same mental substance as 
our desire, and it may be they interfere with each other in acting simultane- 
ously. We know that it happens fairly often that some desired solution 
comes to us after an interval of relaxed interest in the problem., as it were a 
reward for the freedom given to the mind. 

What I have just said, although it applies more especially to the producer, 
may also be observed in the consumer of the work. In the latter the produc- 
tion of value, for example the comprehension, the interest aroused, the effort 
he may expend to possess the work more completely, would give rise to 
similar observations. 

Whether I fasten on the page I must write or the one I wish to understand, 
in both cases I enter upon a phase of diminished freedom. But in both cases 
the restriction of my freedom may give rise to two quite opposite results. 
Sometimes my task itself excites rne to pursue it; far from resenting it as a 
difficulty or a departure from the most natural course of my mind, I give 
myself to it and advance in such lively fashion along the path of my purpose 
that the sensation of f atigue is diminished, up to the moment when suddenly 
it actually beclouds my thought, shuffles the deck of ideas to set up again the 
normal disorder of short-term exchanges, the state of dispersive and restful 

At other times, however, constraint is uppermost; the maintenance of 
direction is more and more difficult, the labor involved becomes more 
perceptible than its result, the means are opposed to the end, and the tension 
of the mind must be fed from resources more and more precarious and more 
and more unlike the ideal object whose power and action they must main- 
tain, at the expense of fatigue rapidly becoming unbearable. That is the 
great contrast between two uses of the mind. It will serve to show you that 
the care I have taken to specify that works must be considered only as acts of 
production or consumption, was entirely consistent with what may be ob- 
served; while, on the other hand, it furnishes us the means of making a very 
important distinction between works of the mind. 

Among these works, usage has created a category called works of art. It is 
not very easy to define this term, if indeed we need to define it. In the first 
place, I see nothing in the production of works which clearly forces me to 
create a category for the work of art. I find everywhere, in our minds, atten- 
tion, tentative efforts, unexpected clarity and dark passages, improvisations 
and trials, or very hurried repetitions. On every hearth of the mind there 
are both fire and ashes; prudence and imprudence, method and its opposite; 
chance in a thousand forms. Artists, scholars, all are alike in the details of 
the strange life of thought. It may be said that at any particular moment the 

702 The Creative Process 

functional difference between minds at work is imperceptible. But if we 
turn our attention to the effects of works already finished, we discover in 
certain ones a particularity that groups them, differentiates them from all 
others. A certain work taken by itself may be divided into parts that are 
wholes, each able to create a desire and satisfy it. The work offers us in each 
of its parts, food and appetite at once. It continually awakens in us both 
thirst and a fountain. In return for the freedom we give up, it rewards us 
by making us love the captivity it imposes upon us and by giving us the 
feeling of a delightful kind of immediate knowledge; all the while, expend- 
ing to our great satisfaction our own energy, which it evokes in a way so 
compatible with the highest performance of our organic resources that the 
sensation of effort itself becomes intoxicating and we feel ourselves posses- 
sors in being magnificently possessed. 

So the more we give, the more we wish to give, all the while thinking we 
are receiving. The illusion of acting, expressing, discovering, understanding, 
solving, mastering, animates us. 

All these effects, which are sometimes prodigious, are quite instantaneous, 
like everything that plays upon our sensibility; they attack directly the 
strategic points commanding our affective life, and through it make us in- 
tellectually available; they accelerate, retard, or even regularize our various 
functions whose accord or discord gives us in the end all the possible 
modulations on the sensation of living, from flat calm up to tempest. 

The very tone of the 'cello, with many people, exercises real visceral per- 
suasion. There are words whose frequency in an author's work reveals to us 
that for him they are endowed with far more resonance, and thus with 
positively creative power, than they are in general. This is one of those 
personal valuations, those great values -for one alone, which certainly play 
a very handsome role in those productions of the mind in which singularity 
is an element of the first importance. 

These considerations will serve to clarify somewhat the constitution of 
poetry, which is rather mysterious. It is strange that one should, exert him- 
self to formulate a discourse which must simultaneously obey perfectly 
incongruous conditions: musical, rational, significant, and suggestive; con- 
ditions which require a continuous and repeated connection between 
rhythm and syntax, between sound and sense. 

These parts are without any conceivable relation to one another. Yet we 
must give the illusion of their profound intimacy. What good is all this? 
The observance of rhythms, rimes, and verbal melody hampers the direct 
movement of my thought, and in fact keeps me from saying what I wish . . . 
But what do I wish to say? That is the question. 

The answer is that in this case we have to wish what we must wish in 
order that thought, language and its conventions, on the one hand, all 

Paul VaUry 

borrowed from the life around us, and on the other, the rhythm and accents 
of the voice, which are directly personal things, may be brought into accord; 
and this accord requires mutual sacrifices, the most remarkable of which is 
the one that must be voluntarily made by thought. 

Some day I shall explain how this change shows in the language of poets, 
and how there is a poetic language in which words are no longer the words 
of free practical usage. They are no longer held together by the same attrac- 
tions; they are charged with two different values operating simultaneously 
and of equivalent importance: their sound and their instantaneous psychic 
effect. They remind us then of those complex numbers in geometry; the 
coupling of the phonetic variable with the semantic variable creates prob- 
lems of extension and convergence which poets solve blindfold but they 
solve them (and that is the essential thing), from time to time... Fro m 
Time to Time, that is the point! There lies the uncertainty, there lies the 
disparity between persons and times. That is our capital fact. I shall have to 
return to it at length; for all art, whether poetic or not, consists in defending 
oneself against the disparity of the moment. 

All I have just outlined in this summary examination of the general 
notion of a work must lead me at last to indicate the point of view I have 
chosen, from which to explore this immense domain, the making of works 
of the mind. We have tried, in a few moments, to give you an idea of the 
complexity of these questions, where it may be said that everything happens 
at once, where what is deepest in man is combined with a number of ex- 
ternal factors. 

All may be summed up in this formula : that in the making of a work, an 
act comes in contact with the indefinable. 

A voluntary act, which in every one of the arts is very complex, often 
requiring long labor, the most absorbed attention, and very precise knowl- 
edge, must adapt itself, in the making of art, to a state of being in itself 
quite irreducible, to a kind of definite expression, which does not refer to 
any localizable object, but which may itself be determined, and achieved by 
a system of uniformly determined acts; all this resulting in a work whose 
effect must be to set up an analogous state of being in someone else I do not 
say a similar state (since we shall never know about that) but one analo- 
gous to the initial state of the producer. 

Thus, on the one hand the indefinable, on the other hand a necessarily 
finite act; on the one hand a state, sometimes a single sensation producing 
value and impulse, a state whose sole character is to correspond to no finite 
term of our experience; on the other hand an act, that is to say the essence 
of determination, since an act is a miraculous escape from the closed world 
of the possible into the universe of fact; and this act is frequently produced 
despite the mind with all its precise knowledge arising from the chaotic as 

104 The Creative Process 

Minerva arose fully armed from the mind of Jupiter, an old image still full 
of meaning! 

With the artist, it happens in fact when the circumstances are favor- 
able that the inner impulse to production gives him, at once and in- 
separably, the motive, the immediate external aim, and the means and 
technical requirements for the act. In general a creative situation is set up 
in which there is a more or less lively exchange between requirements, 
knowledge, intentions, means, all mental and instrumental things, all the 
elements of action, in one act whose stimulus is not situated in the world 
where the aims of ordinary action are found, and consequently can furnish 
us with no foresight that may determine the formula of acts to be accom- 
plished in order to locate it with certainty. 

And it was when I finally came to conceive this quite remarkable fact 
(though seldom remarked, it seems) I mean the performance of an act, as 
the outcome, the issue, the final determination of a state which is inex- 
pressible in finite terms (that is to say which exactly cancels its causal sensa- 
tion), that I resolved to adopt as the general form of this Course the most 
general possible type of human action. I thought it best at all costs to set a 
simple line, a sort of geodetic path through the observations and ideas that 
surround this innumerable subject, knowing that in a study which has not 
before, to my knowledge, been taken up in its entirety, it is illusory to seek 
any intrinsic order, any line of development involving no repetition which 
would permit us to list problems according to the progression of some vari- 
able, for such a variable does not exist. 

When the mind is in question, everything is in question; all is disorder, 
and every reaction against that disorder is of the same kind as itself. For 
the fact is that disorder is the condition of the mind's fertility: it contains the 
mind's promise, since its fertility depends on the unexpected rather than 
the expected, depends rather on what we do not know, and because we do 
not know it, than what we know. How could it be otherwise? The domain 
I am trying to survey is limitless, but the whole is reduced to human propor- 
tions at once if we take care to stick to our own experience, to the obser- 
vations we have ourselves made, to the means we have tested. I try never 
to forget that every man is the measure of things. 

Translated by Jackson Mathews 

From "A Course in Poetics: First Lesson,*' by Paul Valery, translated by Jackson Mathews, in 
the Southern Review, Winter, 1940, volume 5, no. 3. By permission of the translator, who has 
kindly revised his translation for this publication, and the publishers of the Southern Review: 
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

Paul Valery 705 

William Butler Yeats : THREE PIECES ON THE 




.HOSE LEARNED MEN who are a terror to children and an ignominious sight 
in lovers' eyes, all those butts of a traditional humour where there is some- 
thing of the wisdom of peasants, are mathematicians, theologians, lawyers, 
men of science of various kinds. They have followed some abstract reverie, 
which stirs the brain only and needs that only, and have therefore stood 
before the looking-glass without pleasure and never known those thoughts 
that shape the lines of the body for beauty or animation, and wake a desire 
for praise or for display. 

There are two pictures of Venice side by side in the house where I am 
writing this, a Canaletto that has little but careful drawing, and a not very 
emotional pleasure in clean bright air, and a Franz Francken, where the 
blue water, that in the other stirs one so little, can make one long to plunge 
into the green depth where a cloud shadow falls. Neither painting could 
move us at all, if our thought did not rush out to the edges of our flesh, and 
it is so with all good art, whether the Victory of Samothrace which reminds 
the soles of our feet of swiftness, or the Odyssey that would send us out 

zo6 The Creative Process 

under the salt wind, or the young horsemen on the Parthenon, that seem 
happier than our boyhood ever was, and in our boyhood's way. Art bids us 
touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrinks from what Blake 
calls mathematic form, from every abstract thing, from all that is of the 
brain only, from all that is not a fountain jetting from the entire hopes, 
memories, and sensations of the body. Its morality is personal, knows little 
of any general law, has no blame for Little Musgrave, no care for Lord 
Barnard's house, seems lighter than a breath and yet is hard and heavy, for 
if a man is not ready to face toil and risk, and in all gaiety of heart, his body 
will grow unshapely and his heart lack the wild will that stirs desire. It 
approved before all men those that talked or wrestled or tilted under the 
walls of Urbino, or sat in the wide window-seats discussing all things, with 
love ever in their thought, when the wise Duchess ordered all, and the Lady 
Emilia gave the theme. 


A YEAR AGO I found that I had written no verse for two years; I had never 
been so long barren; I had nothing in my head, and there used to be more 
than I could write. Perhaps Coole Park where I had escaped from politics, 
from all that Dublin talked of, when it was shut, shut me out from my 
theme; or did the subconscious drama that was my imaginative life end with 
its owner ? but it was more likely that I had grown too old for poetry. I 
decided to force myself to write, then take advice. In 'At Parnell's Funeral' 
I rhymed passages from a lecture I had given in America; a poem upon 
mount Meru came spontaneously, but philosophy is a dangerous theme; 
then I was barren again. I wrote the prose dialogue of The King of The 
Great Cloc\ Tower that I might be forced to make lyrics for its imaginary 
people. When I had written all but the last lyric I went a considerable 
journey partly to get the advice of a poet not of my school who would, as he 
did some years ago, say what he thought. I asked him to dine, tried to get 
his attention. 'I am in my sixty-ninth year' I said, 'probably I should stop 
writing verse, I want your opinion upon some verse I have written lately.' 
I had hoped he would ask me to read it but he would not speak of art, or of 
literature, or of anything related to them. I had however been talking to his 
latest disciple and knew that his opinions had not changed: Phidias had 
corrupted sculpture, we had nothing of true Greece but certain Ni%e dug up 
out of the foundations of the Parthenon, and that corruption ran through 

William Butler Yeats 107 

all our art; Shakespeare and Dante had corrupted literature, Shakespeare 
by his too abounding sentiment, Dante by his compromise with the Church. 

He said apropos o nothing 'Arthur Balfour was a scoundrel/ and from 
that on would talk of nothing but politics. All the other modern statesmen 
were more or less scoundrels except 'Mussolini and that hysterical imitator 
of his, Hitler.' When I objected to his violence he declared that Dante con- 
sidered all sins intellectual, even sins of the flesh, he himself refused to make 
the modern distinction between error and sin. He urged me to read the 
works of Captain Douglas who alone knew what caused our suffering. He 
took my manuscript and went away denouncing Dublin as 'a reactionary 
hole* because I had said that I was re-reading Shakespeare, would go on to 
Chaucer, and found all that I wanted of modern life in 'detection and the 
wild west.' Next day his judgement came and that in a single word 'Putrid.' 

Then I took my verses to a friend of my own school, and this friend said 
'go on just like that. Plays like The Great Cloc\ Tower always seem un- 
finished but that is no matter. Begin plays without knowing how to end 
them for the sake of the lyrics. I once wrote a play and after I had filled it 
with lyrics abolished the play.' Then I brought my work to two painters 
and a poet until I was like Panurge consulting oracles as to whether he 
should get married and rejecting all that did not confirm his own desire. 

God guard me from those thoughts men think 

In the mind alone, 

He that sings a lasting song 

Thinks in a marrow bone; 

From all that makes a wise old man 
That can be praised of all; 

what am I that I should not seem 
For the song's sake a fool. 

1 pray for fashion's word is out 
And prayer comes round again 
That I may seem though I die old 
A foolish, passionate man. 

108 The Creative Process 


That civilisation may not sink, 

Its great battle lost, 

Quiet the dog, tether the pony 

To a distant post; 

Our master Caesar is in the tent 

Where the maps are spread, 

His eyes fixed upon nothing, 

A hand under his head. 

Li\e a long-legged fly upon the stream 

His mind moves upon silence. 

That the topless towers be burnt 

And men recall that face, 

Move most gently if move you must 

In this lonely place. 

She thinks, part woman, three parts a child, 

That nobody looks; her feet 

Practise a tinker shuffle 

Picked up on a street. 

Life a long-legged fly upon the stream 

Her mind moves upon silence. 

That girls at puberty may find 

The first Adam in their thought, 

Shut the door of the Pope's chapel, 

Keep those children out. 

There on that scaffolding reclines 

Michael Angelo. 

With no more sound than the mice make 

His hand moves to and fro. 

Ufe a long-legged fly upon the stream 

His mind moves upon silence. 

i, from The Cutting of An Agate; 2, from the preface to The King of the Great Cloc\ Tower] 
3, from Last Poems and Plays, by William Butler Yeats. By permission of Mrs. William Butler 
Yeats; the English publishers: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London; the United States publishers: 
The Macmillan Company, New York City. 

William Butler Yeats 109 


JLN ANSWERING the question, How are poems made ? my instinctive answer 
is a flat 1 don't know.' It makes not the slightest difference that the question 
as asked me refers solely to my own poems, for I know as little of how they 
are made as I do of any one else's. What I do know about them is only a 
millionth part of what there must be to know. I meet them where they 
touch consciousness, and that is already a considerable distance along the 
road of evolution. 

Whether poetry is the fusion of contradictory ideas, as Mr. Graves be- 
lieves, or the result and relief of emotional irritation and tension, as Sara 
Teasdale puts it, or the yielding to a psychical state verging on day-dream, 
as Professor Prescott has written a whole book to prove, it is impossible for 
any one to state definitely. All I can confidently assert from my own ex- 
perience is that it is not day-dream, but an entirely different psychic state 
and one peculiar to itself. 

The truth is that there is a little mystery here, and no one is more con- 
scious of it than the poet himself. Let us admit at once that a poet is some- 
thing like a radio aerial he is capable of receiving messages on waves of 
some sort; but he is more than an aerial, for he possesses the capacity of 
transmuting these messages into those patterns of words we call poems. 

no The Creative Process 

It would seem that a scientific definition of a poet might put it something 
like this : a man of an extraordinarily sensitive and active subconscious per- 
sonality, fed by, and feeding, a non-resistant consciousness. A common 
phrase among poets is, 'It came to me.' So hackneyed has this become that 
one learns to suppress the expression with care, but really it is the best 
description I know of the conscious arrival of a poem. 

Sometimes the external stimulus which has produced a poem is known or 
can be traced. It may be a sight, a sound, a thought, or an emotion. Some- 
times the consciousness has no record of the initial impulse, which has either 
been forgotten or springs from a deep, unrealized memory. But whatever it 
is, emotion, apprehended or hidden, is a part of it, for only emotion can 
rouse the subconscious into action. How carefully and precisely the sub- 
conscious mind functions, I have often been a witness to in my own work. 
An idea will come into my head for no apparent reason; 'The Bronze 
Horses,' for instance. I registered the horses as a good subject for a poem; 
and, having so registered them, I consciously thought no more about the 
matter. But what I had really done was to drop my subject into the sub- 
conscious, much as one drops a letter into the mail-box. Six months later, 
the words of the poem began to come into my head, the poem to use my 
private vocabulary was 'there.' 

Some poets speak of hearing a voice speaking to them, and say that they 
write almost to dictation. I do not know whether my early scientific training 
is responsible for my using a less picturesque vocabulary, or whether their 
process really differs from mine. I do not hear a voice, but I do hear words 
pronounced, only the pronouncing is toneless. The words seem to be pro- 
nounced in my head, but with nobody speaking them. This is an effect with 
which I am familiar, for I always hear words even when I am reading to 
myself, and still more when I am writing. In writing, I frequently stop to 
read aloud what I have written, although this is really hardly necessary, so 
clearly do the words sound in my head. 

The subconscious is, however, a most temperamental ally. Often he will 
strike work at some critical point and not another word is to be got out of 
him. Here is where the conscious training of the poet comes in, for he must 
fill in what the subconscious has left, and fill it in as much in the key of the 
rest as possible. Every long poem is sprinkled with these lacunce; hence the 
innumerable rewritings which most poems undergo. Sometimes the sly sub- 
conscious partner will take pity on the struggling poet and return to his 
assistance; sometimes he will have nothing to do with that particular passage 
again. This is the reason that a poet must be both born and made. He must 
be born with a subconscious factory always working for him or he never 
can be a poet at all, and he must have knowledge and talent enough to 
'putty' up his 'holes to use Mr. Graves's expression. Let no one undervalue 

Amy Lowell in 

this process of puttying; it is a condition of good poetry. Of the many first 
manuscript drafts of great poets that have passed through my hands in the 
last twenty-five years, I have seen none without its share of putty, and the 
one of all most worked over is Keats's 'The Eve of St. Agnes.' 

Long poems are apt to take months preparing in the subconscious mind; 
in the case of short poems, the period of subconscious gestation may be a day 
or an instant, or any time between. Suddenly words are there, and there 
with an imperious insistence which brooks no delay. They must be written 
down immediately or an acute suffering comes on, a distress almost physical, 
which is not relieved until the poem is given right of way. I never deny 
poems when they come; whatever I am doing, whatever I am writing, I lay 
it aside and attend to the arriving poem. I am so constituted that poems 
seldom come when I am out of doors, or actively engaged in company. But 
when I am alone, an idea contingent upon something I have seen or done 
when I am out will announce itself, quite as though it had been biding its 
time until it had me quiescent and receptive. 

I seldom compose in my head. The first thing I do when I am conscious 
of the coming of a poem is to seek paper and pencil. It seems as though the 
simple gazing at a piece of blank paper hypnotized me into an awareness 
of the subconscious. For the same reason, I seldom correct poems while 
walking or driving; I find that the concentration needed for this is in the 
nature of trance (although that is too exaggerated a word for it), and must 
not be broken into by considerations of where I am going or what station 
I am to get out at. 

This state of semi-trance is not surprising when we think of short poems ; 
what is curious is that the trancelike state can hold over interruptions in the 
case of long poems. When a poem is so long that days or weeks are needed 
to write it, the mere sitting down to continue it produces the requisite frame 
of mind, which holds (except for the lacunce I have spoken of) throughout 
its correction. On the other hand, no power will induce it if the subconscious 
is not ready; hence the sterile periods known to all poets. 

I do believe that a poet should know all he can. No subject is alien to him, 
and the profounder his knowledge in any direction, the more depth will 
there be to his poetry. I believe he should be thoroughly grounded in both 
the old and the new poetic forms, but I am firmly convinced that he must 
never respect tradition above his intuitive self. Let him be sure of his own 
sincerity above all, let him bow to no public acclaim, however alluring, and 
then let him write with all courage what his subconscious mind suggests to 
him. n 

From "The Process of Making Poetry," in Poetry and Poets, by Amy Lowell. By permission of 
the publishers: Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 

112 The Creative Process 

Stephen Spender : THE MAKING OF A POEM 



.T WOULD BE inexcusable to discuss my own way of writing poetry unless I 
were able to relate this to a wider view of the problems which poets attempt 
to solve when they sit down at a desk or table to write, or walk around com- 
posing their poems in their heads. There is a danger of my appearing to put 
across my own experiences as the general rule, when every poet's way of 
going about his work and his experience of being a poet are different, and 
when my own poetry may not be good enough to lend my example any 

Yet the writing of poetry is an activity which makes certain demands of 
attention on the poet and which requires that he should have certain qualifi- 
cations of ear, vision, imagination, memory and so on. He should be able to 
think in images; he should have as great a mastery of language as a painter 
has over his palate, even if the range of his language be very limited. All this 
means that, in ordinary society, a poet has to adapt himself, more or less 
consciously, to the demands of his vocation, and hence the peculiarities of 
poets and the condition of inspiration which many people have said is near 

Stephen Spender 

to madness. One poet's example is only his adaptation o his personality to 
the demands of poetry, but if it is clearly stated it may help us to understand 
other poets, and even something of poetry. 

Today we lack very much a whole view of poetry, and have instead many 
one-sided views of certain aspects of poetry which have been advertised as 
the only aims which poets should attempt. Movements such as free verse, 
imagism, surrealism, expressionism, personalism and so on, tend to make 
people think that poetry is simply a matter of not writing in metre of rhyme, 
or of free association, or of thinking in images, or of a kind of drawing room 
madness (surrealism) which corresponds to drawing room communism. 
Here is a string of ideas: Night, dark, stars, immensity, blue, voluptuous, 
clinging, columns, clouds, moon, sickle, harvest, vast camp fire, hell. Is this 
poetry ? A lot of strings of words almost as simple as this are set down on 
the backs of envelopes and posted off to editors or to poets by the vast army 
of amateurs who think that to be illogical is to be poetic, with that fond 
question. Thus I hope that this discussion of how poets work will imply a 
wider and completer view of poets. 


The problem of creative writing is essentially one of concentration, and 
"the supposed eccentricities of poets are usually due to mechanical habits or 
rituals developed in order to concentrate. Concentration, of course, for the 
purpose of writing poetry, is different from the kind of concentration re- 
quired for working out a sum. It is a focussing of the attention in a special 
way, so that the poet is aware of all the implications and possible develop- 
ments of his idea, just as one might say that a plant was not concentrating 
on developing mechanically in one direction, but in many directions, 
towards the warmth and light with its leaves, and towards the water with 
its roots, all at the same time. 

Schiller liked to have a smell of rotten apples, concealed beneath the lid 
of his desk, under his nose when he was composing poetry. Walter de la 
Mare has told me that he must smoke when writing. Auden drinks endless 
cups of tea. Coflfee is my own addiction, besides smoking a great deal, which 
I hardly ever do except when I am writing. I notice also that as I attain a 
greater concentration, this tends to make me forget the taste of the cigarette 
in ;my mouth, and then I have a desire to smoke two or even three cigarettes 
at a time, in order that the sensation from the outside may penetrate through 
the wall of concentration which I have built round myself. 

For goodness sake, though, do not think that rotten apples or cigarettes or 
tea have anything to do with the quality of the work of a Schiller, a de la 
Mare, or an Auden. They are a part of a concentration which has already 
been attained rather than the causes of concentration. De la Mare once said 

114 The Creative Process 

to me that he thought the desire to smoke when writing poetry arose from 
a need, not of a stimulus, but to canalize a distracting leak of his attention 
away from his writing towards the distraction which is always present in 
one's environment. Concentration may be disturbed by someone whistling 
in the street or the ticking of a clock. There is always a slight tendency of 
the body to sabotage the attention of the mind by providing some distrac- 
tion. If this need for distraction can be directed into one channel such as 
the odor of rotten apples or the taste of tobacco or tea then other distrac- 
tions outside oneself are put out of competition. 

Another possible explanation is that the concentrated effort of writing 
poetry is a spiritual activity which makes one completely forget, for the time 
being, that one has a body. It is a disturbance of the balance of body and 
mind and for this reason one needs a kind of anchor of sensation with the 
physical world. Hence the craving for a scent or taste or even, sometimes, 
for sexual activity. Poets speak of the necessity of writing poetry rather than 
of a liking for doing it. It is spiritual compulsion, a straining of the mind to 
attain heights surrounded by abysses and it cannot be entirely happy, for in 
the most important sense, the only reward worth having is absolutely 
denied: for, however confident a poet may be, he is never quite sure that all 
his energy is not misdirected nor that what he is writing is great poetry. At 
the moment when art attains its highest attainment it reaches beyond its 
medium of words or paints or music, and the artist finds himself realizing 
that these instruments are inadequate to the spirit of what he is trying to 

Different poets concentrate in different ways. In my own mind I make a 
sharp distinction between two types of concentration : one is immediate and 
complete, the other is plodding and only completed by stages. Some poets 
write immediately works which, when they are written, scarcely need re- 
vision. Others write their poems by stages, feeling their way from rough 
draft to rough draft, until finally, after many revisions, they have produced 
a result which may seem to have very little connection with their early 

These two opposite processes are vividly illustrated in two examples 
drawn from music: Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart thought out sym- 
phonies, quartets, even scenes from operas, entirely in his head often on a 
journey or perhaps while dealing with pressing problems and then he 
transcribed them, in their completeness, onto paper. Beethoven wrote frag- 
ments of themes in note books which he kept beside him, working on and 
developing them over years. Often his first ideas were of a clumsiness which 
makes scholars marvel how he could, at the end, have developed from them 
such miraculous results. 

Stephen Spender 115 

Thus genius works in different ways to achieve its ends. But although the 
Mozartian type of genius is the more brilliant and dazzling, genius, unlike 
virtuosity, is judged by greatness of results, not by brilliance of performance. 
The result must be the fullest development in a created aesthetic form of 
an original moment of insight, and it does not matter whether genius devotes 
a lifetime to producing a small result if that result be immortal. The differ- 
ence between two types of genius is that one type (the Mozartian) is able to 
plunge the greatest depths of his own experience by the tremendous effort 
of a moment, the other (the Beethovenian) must dig deeper and deeper into 
his consciousness, layer by layer. What counts in either case is the vision 
which sees and pursues and attains the end; the logic of the artistic purpose. 

A poet may be divinely gifted with a lucid and intense and purposive in- 
tellect; he may be clumsy and slow; that does not matter, what matters is 
integrity of purpose and the ability to maintain the purpose without losing 
oneself. Myself, I am scarcely capable of immediate concentration in poetry. 
My mind is not clear, my will is weak, I suffer from an excess of ideas and a 
weak sense of form. For every poem that I begin to write, I think of at least 
ten which I do not write down at all For every poem which I do write 
down, there are seven or eight which I never complete. 

The method which I adopt therefore is to write down as many ideas as 
possible 3 in however rough a form, in note books (I have at least twenty of 
these, on a shelf beside my desk, going back over fifteen years) . I then make 
use of some of the sketches and discard others. 

The best way of explaining how I develop the rough ideas which I use, is 
to take an example. Here is a Notebook begun in 1944. About a hundred 
pages of it are covered with writing, and from this have emerged about six 
poems. Each idea, when it first occurs is given a number. Sometimes the 
ideas do not get beyond one line. For example No. 3 (never developed) is 

the one line : A , , n 7 > 

A language of flesh and roses. 

I shall return to this line in a few pages, when I speak of inspiration. For the 
moment, I turn to No. 13, because here is an idea which has been developed 
to its conclusion. The first sketch begins thus : 
a) There are some days when the sea lies li\e a harp 
Stretched flat beneath the cliffs. The waves 
Li^e wires burn with the sun's coffer glow 
[all the murmuring blue 

every silent] 

Between whose spaces every image 
Of sf(y [field and] hedge and field and boat 
Dwells li\e the huge face of the afternoon. 

116 The Creative Process 

When the heat grows tired, the afternoon 

Out of the land may breathe a sigh 

[Across these wires like a hand. They vibrate 


Which moves across those wires li\e a soft hand 

[Then the vibration] 

Between whose spaces the vibration holds 

Every bird-cry, dog's bar\, man-shout 

And crea\ of rolloc^ from the land and s\y 

With all the music of the afternoon. 

Obviously these lines are attempts to sketch out an idea which exists 
clearly enough on some level of the mind where it yet eludes the attempt to 
state it. At this stage, a poem is like a face which one seems to be able to 
visualize clearly in the eye of memory, but when one examines it mentally 
or tries to think it out, feature by feature, it seems to fade. 

The idea of this poem is a vision of the sea. The faith of the poet is that 
if this vision is clearly stated it will be significant. The vision is of the sea 
stretched under a cliff. On top of the cliff there are fields, hedges, houses. 
Horses draw carts along lanes, dogs bark far inland, bells ring in the dis- 
tance. The shore seems laden with hedges, roses, horses and men, all high 
above the sea, on a very fine summer day when the ocean seems to reflect 
and absorb the shore. Then the small strung-out glittering waves of the sea 
lying under the shore are like the strings of a harp which catch the sunlight. 
Between these strings lies the reflection of the shore. Butterflies are wafted 
out over the waves, which they mistake for the fields of the chalky land- 
scape, searching them for flowers. On a day such as this, the land, reflected 
in the sea, appears to enter into the sea, as though it lies under it, like 
Atlantis. The wires of the harp are like a seen music fusing seascape and 

Looking at this vision in another way, it obviously has symbolic value. 
The sea represents death and eternity, the land represents the brief life of the 
summer and of one human generation which passes into the sea of eternity. 
But let me here say at once that although the poet may be conscious of this 
aspect of his vision, it is exactly what he wants to avoid stating, or even 
being too concerned with. His job is to recreate his vision, and let it speak 
its moral for itself. The poet must distinguish clearly in his own mind be- 
tween that which most definitely must be said and that which must not be 
said. The unsaid inner meaning is revealed in the music and the tonality of 
the poem, and the poet is conscious of it in his knowledge that a certain tone 
of voice, a certain rhythm, are necessary. 

Stephen Spender nj 

In the next twenty versions of the poem I felt my way towards the 
clarification of the seen picture, the music and the inner feeling. In the first 
version quoted above, there is the phrase in the second and third lines: 

The waves 
Ui\e wires burn with the sun's copper glow. 

This phrase fuses the image of the sea with the idea of music, and it is there- 
fore a key-phrase, because the theme of the poem is the fusion of the land 
with the sea. Here, then are several versions of these one and a quarter lines, 
in the order in which they were written : 

b) The waves are wires 
Burning as with the secret song of fires 

c) The day burns in the trembling wires 
With a vast music golden in the eyes 

d) The day glows on its trembling wires 
Singing a golden music in the eyes 

e) The day glows on its burning wires 
Lifye waves of music golden to the eyes. 

f) Afternoon burns upon its wires 
Lines of music dazzling the eyes 

g) Afternoon gilds its tingling wires 
To a visual silent music of the eyes 

In the final version, these two lines appear as in the following stanza: 

h) There are some days the happy ocean lies 
Life an unfingered harp, below the land. 

Afternoon gilds all the silent wires 
Into a burning music of the eyes. 

On mirroring paths between those fine-strung fires 
The shore, laden with roses f horses, spires. 
Wanders in water, imaged above ribbed sand. 

118 The Creative Process 


The hard work evinced in these examples, which are only a fraction of 
the work put into the whole poem, may cause the reader to wonder whether 
there is no such thing as inspiration, or whether it is merely Stephen 
Spender who is uninspired. The answer is that everything in poetry is work 
except inspiration, whether this work is achieved at one swift stroke, as 
Mozart wrote his music, or whether it is a slow process of evolution from 
stage to stage. Here again, I have to qualify the word 'work,' as I qualified 
the word 'concentration': the work on a line of poetry may take the form 
of putting a version aside for a few days, weeks or years, and then taking 
it up again, when it may be found that the line has, in the interval of time, 
almost rewritten itself. 

Inspiration is the beginning of a poem and it is also its final goal. It is 
the first idea which drops into the poet's mind and it is the final idea which 
he at last achieves in words. In between this start and this winning post 
there is the hard race, the sweat and toil. 

Paul Valery speaks of the 'une Hgne donnee' of a poem. One line is given 
to the poet by God or by nature, the rest he has to discover for himself. 

My own experience of inspiration is certainly that of a line or a phrase 
or a word or sometimes something still vague, a dim cloud of an idea which 
I feel must be condensed into a shower of words. The peculiarity of the 
key word or line is that it does not merely attract, as, say, the word 'bragga- 
docio' attracts. It occurs in what seems to be an active, male, germinal form 
as though it were the centre of a statement requiring a beginning and an 
end, and as though it had an impulse in a certain direction. Here are 

^ * A language of flesh and roses 

This phrase (not very satisfactory in itself) brings to my mind a whole 
series of experiences and the idea of a poem which I shall perhaps write 
some years hence. I was standing in the corridor of a train passing through 
the Black Country. I saw a landscape of pits and pitheads, artificial moun- 
tains, jagged yellow wounds in the earth, everything transformed as though 
by the toil of an enormous animal or giant tearing up the earth in search 
of prey or treasure. Oddly enough, a stranger next to me in the corridor 
echoed my inmost thought. He said: "Everything there is man-made." At 
this moment the line flashed into my head: 

A language of flesh and roses. 

The sequence of my thought was as follows: the industrial landscape which 
seems by now a routine and act of God which enslaves both employers and 
workers who serve and profit by it, is actually the expression of man's will. 
Men willed it to be so, and the pitheads, slag-heaps and the ghastly dis- 

Stephen Spender 1/9 

regard of anything but the pursuit of wealth, are a symbol of modern man's 
mind. In other words, the world which we create the world of slums and 
telegrams and newspapers is a kind of language of our inner wishes and 
thoughts. Although this is so, it is obviously a language which has got out- 
side our control It is a confused language, an irresponsible senile gibberish. 
This thought greatly distressed me, and I started thinking that if the phe- 
nomena created by humanity are really like words in a language, what 
kind of language do we really aspire to? All this sequence of thought 
flashed into my mind with the answer which came before the question: 
A language of flesh and roses. 

I hope this example will give the reader some idea of what I mean by in- 
spiration. Now the line, which I shall not repeat again, is a way of thinking 
imaginatively. If the line embodies some of the ideas which I have related 
above, these ideas must be further made clear in other lines. That is the 
terrifying challenge of poetry. Can I think out the logic of images? How 
easy it is to explain here the poem that I would have liked to write! How 
difficult it would be to write it. For writing it would imply living my way 
through the imaged experience of all these ideas, which here are mere ab- 
stractions, and such an effort of imaginative experience requires a lifetime 
of patience and watching. 

Here is an example of a cloudy form of thought germinated by the word 
cross, which is the key word of the poem which exists formlessly in my 
mind. Recently my wife had a son. On the first day that I visited her after 
the boy's birth, I went by bus to the hospital. Passing through the streets 
on the top of the bus, they all seemed very clean, and the thought occurred 
to me that everything was prepared for our child. Past generations have 
toiled so that any child born today inherits, with his generation, cities, 
streets, organization, the most elaborate machinery for living. Everything 
has been provided for him by people dead long before he was born. Then, 
naturally enough, sadder thoughts colored this picture for me, and I re- 
flected how he also inherited vast maladjustments, vast human wrongs. 
Then I thought of the child as like a pin-point of present existence, the 
moment incarnate, in whom the whole of the past, and all possible futures 
cross. This word cross somehow suggested the whole situation to me of a 
child born into the world and also of the form of a poem about his situation. 
When the word cross appeared in the poem, the idea of the past should give 
place to the idea of the future and it should be apparent that the cross in 
which present and future meet is the secret of an individual human exist- 
ence. And here again, the unspoken secret which lies beyond the poem, the 
moral significance of other meanings of the word 'cross* begins to glow 
with its virtue that should never be said and yet should shine through 
every image in the poem. 

/2o The Creative Process 

This account of inspiration is probably weak beside the accounts that 
other poets might give. I am writing of my own experience, and my own 
inspiration seems to me like the faintest flash of insight into the nature of 
reality beside that of other poets whom I can think of. However, it is pos- 
sible that I describe here a kind of experience which, however slight it may 
be, is far truer to the real poetic experience than Aldous Huxley's account 
of how a young poet writes poetry in his novel Time Must Have a Stop. 
It is hard to imagine anything more self-conscious and unpoetic than Mr. 
Huxley's account. 


If the art of concentrating in a particular way is the discipline necessary 
for poetry to reveal itself, memory exercised in a particular way is the nat- 
ural gift of poetic genius. The poet, above all else, is a person who never 
forgets certain sense-impressions which he has experienced and which he 
can re-live again and again as though with all their original freshness. 

All poets have this highly developed sensitive apparatus of memory, and 
they are usually aware of experiences which happened to them at the earliest 
age and which retain their pristine significance throughout life. The meet- 
ing of Dante and Beatrice when the poet was only nine years of age is the 
experience which became a symbol in Dante's mind around which the 
Divine Comedy crystallized. The experience of nature which forms the 
subject of Wordsworth's poetry was an extension of a childhood vision of 
'natural presences' which surrounded the boy Wordsworth. And his deci- 
sion in later life to live in the Lake District was a decision to return to the 
scene of these childhood memories which were the most important experi- 
ences in his poetry. There is evidence for the importance of this kind of 
memory in all the creative arts, and the argument certainly applies to prose 
which is creative. Sir Osbert Sitwell has told me that his book Before the 
Bombardment, which contains an extremely civilized and satiric account 
of the social life of Scarborough before and during the last war, was based 
on his observations of life in that resort before he had reached the age of 

It therefore is not surprising that although I have no memory for tele- 
phone numbers, addresses, faces and where I have put this morning's 
correspondence, I have a perfect memory for the sensation of certain experi- 
ences which are crystallized for me around certain associations. I could 
demonstrate this from my own life by the overwhelming nature of asso- 
ciations which, suddenly aroused, have carried me back so completely into 
the past, particularly into my childhood, that I have lost all sense of the 
present time and place. But the best proofs of this power of memory are 
found in the odd lines of poems written in note books fifteen years ago. A 

Stephen Spender 121 

few fragments of unfinished poems enable me to enter immediately into 
the experiences from which they were derived, the circumstances in which 
they were written, and unwritten feelings in the poem that were projected 
but never put into words. 

. . . Knowledge of a full sun 
That runs up his big s%y, above 
The hill, then in those trees and throws 
His smiling on the turf. 

That is an incomplete idea of fifteen years ago, and I remember exactly a 
balcony of a house facing a road, and, on the other side of the road, pine 
trees, beyond which lay the sea. Every morning the sun sprang up, first of 
all above the horizon of the sea, then it climbed to the tops of the trees and 
shone on my window. And this memory connects with the sun that shines 
through my window in London now in spring and early summer. So that 
the memory is not exactly a memory. It is more like one prong upon which 
a whole calendar of similar experiences happening throughout years, col- 
lect- A memory once clearly stated ceases to be a memory, it becomes per- 
petually present, because every time we experience something which re- 
calls it, the clear and lucid original experience imposes its formal beauty on 
the new experiences. It is thus no longer a memory but an experience lived 
through again and again. 

Turning over these old note books my eye catches some lines, in a pro- 
jected long poem, which immediately re-shape themselves into the follow- 
ing short portrait of a woman's face: 

Her eyes are gleaming fish 

Caught in her nervous face, as if in a net. 

Her hair is wild and fair, haloing her cheeks 

U\e a fantastic flare of Southern sun. 

There is madness in her cherishing her children. 

Sometimes, perhaps a single time in years, 

Her wandering fingers stoop to arrange some flowers 

Then in her hands her whole life stops and weeps. 

It is perhaps true to say that memory is the faculty of poetry, because the 
imagination itself is an exercise of memory. There is nothing we imagine 
which we do not already know. And our ability to imagine is our ability to 
remember what we have already once experienced and to apply it to some 
different situation. Thus the greatest poets are those with memories so great 
that they extend beyond their strongest experiences to their minutest ob- 
servations of people and things far outside their own self-centredness (the 
weakness of memory is its self-centredness: hence the narcissistic nature of 
most poetry). 

122 The Creative Process 

Here I can detect my own greatest weakness. My memory is defective 
and self-centred. I lack the confidence in using it to create situations outside 
myself, although I believe that, in theory, there are very few situations in 
life which a poet should not be able to imagine, because it is a fact that 
most poets have experienced almost every situation in life. I do not mean 
by this that a poet who writes about a Polar Expedition has actually been 
to the North Pole. I mean, though, that he has been cold, hungry, etc., so 
that it is possible for him by remembering imaginatively his own felt ex- 
periences to know what it is like to explore the North Pole. That is where 
I fail. I cannot write about going to the North Pole. 


It is evident that a faith in their vocation, mystical in intensity, sustains 
poets. There are many illustrations from the lives of poets to show this, and 
Shakespeare's sonnets are full of expressions of his faith in the immortality 
of his lines. 

From my experience I can clarify the nature of this faith. When I was 
nine, we went to the Lake District, and there my parents read me some of 
the poems of Wordsworth. My sense of the sacredness of the task of poetry 
began then, and I have always felt that a poet's was a sacred vocation, like 
a saint's. Since I was nine, I have wanted to be various things, for example, 
Prime Minister >(when I was twelve). Like some other poets I am attracted 
by the life of power and the life of action, but I am still more repelled by 
them. Power involves forcing oneself upon the attention of historians by 
doing things and occupying offices which are, in themselves, important, so 
that what is truly powerful is not the soul of a so-called powerful and promi- 
nent man but the position which he fills and the things which he does. 
Similarly, the life of 'action' which seems so very positive is, in fact, a selec- 
tive, even a negative kind of life. A man of action does one thing or several 
things because he does not do something else. Usually men who do very 
spectacular things fail completely to do the ordinary things which fill the 
lives of most normal people, and which would be far more heroic and spec- 
tacular perhaps, if they did not happen to be done by many people. Thus in 
practice the life of action has always seemed to me an act of cutting oneself 
off from life. 

Although it is true that poets are vain and ambitious, their vanity and 
ambition is of the purest kind attainable in this world, for the saint re- 
nounces ambition. They are ambitious to be accepted for what they ulti- 
mately are as revealed by their inmost experiences, their finest perceptions, 
their deepest feelings, their uttermost sense of truth, in their poetry. They 
cannot cheat about these things, because the quality of their own being is 
revealed not in the noble sentiments which their poetry expresses, but in 

Stephen Spender 123 

sensibility, control of language, rhythm and music, things which cannot be 
attained by a vote of confidence from an electorate, or by the office of Poet 
Laureate. Of course, work is tremendously important, but, in poetry, even 
the greatest labor can only serve to reveal the intrinsic qualities of soul of 
the poet as he really is. 

Since there can be no cheating, the poet, like the saint, stands in all his 
works before the bar of a perpetual day of judgment. His vanity of course 
is pleased by success, though even success may contribute to his understand- 
ing that popularity does not confer on him the favorable judgment of all 
the ages which he seeks. For what does it mean to be praised by one's own 
age, which is soaked in crimes and stupidity, except perhaps that future 
ages, wise where we are foolish, will see him as a typical expression of this 
age's crimes and stupidity? Nor is lack of success a guarantee of great 
poetry, though there are some who pretend that it is. Nor can the critics, at 
any rate beyond a certain limited point of technical judgment, be trusted. 

The poet's faith is therefore, firstly, a mystique of vocation, secondly, a 
faith in his own truth, combined with his own devotion to a task. There 
can really be no greater faith than the confidence that one is doing one's 
utmost to fulfill one's high vocation, and it is this that has inspired all the 
greatest poets. At the same time this faith is coupled with a deep humility 
because one knows that, ultimately, judgment does not rest with oneself. 
All one can do is to achieve nakedness, to be what one is with all one's facul- 
ties and perceptions, strengthened by all the skill which one can acquire, 
and then to stand before the judgment of time. 

In my Notebooks, I find the following Prose Poem, which expresses these 

Bring me peace bring me power bring me assurance. Let me reach the 
bright day, the high chair, the plain des\, where my hand at last controls 
the words, where anxiety no longer undermines me. If I don't reach these 
I'm thrown to the wolves, I'm a restless animal wandering from 'place to 
place, from experience to experience. 

Give me the humility and the judgment to live alone with the deep and 
rich satisfaction of my own creating: not to be thrown into doubt by a 
word of spite or disapproval. 

In the last analysis don't mind whether your wor\ is good or bad so long 
as it has the completeness, the enormity of the whole world which you love. 


Inspiration and song are the irreducible final qualities of a poet which 
make his vocation different from all others. Inspiration is an experience in 
which a line or an idea is given to one, and perhaps also a state of mind 
in which one writes one's best poetry. Song is far more difficult to define. 

124 The Creative Process 

It is the music which a poem as yet unthought of will assume, the empty 
womb o poetry for ever in the poet's consciousness, waiting for the fer- 
tilizing seed. 

Sometimes, when I lie in a state of half -waking half -sleeping, I am con- 
scious of a stream of words which seem to pass through my mind, without 
their having a meaning, but they have a sound, a sound of passion, or a 
sound recalling poetry that I know. Again sometimes when I am writing, 
the music of the words I am trying to shape takes me far beyond the words, 
I am aware of a rhythm, a dance, a fury, which is as yet empty of words. 

In these observations, I have said little about headaches, midnight oil, 
pints of beer or of claret, love affairs, and so on, which are supposed to be 
stations on the journeys of poets through life. There is no doubt that writ- 
ing poetry, when a poem appears to succeed, results in an intense physical 
excitement, a sense of release and ecstasy. On the other hand, I dread writ- 
ing poetry, for, I suppose, the following reasons: a poem is a terrible journey, 
a painful effort of concentrating the imagination; words are an extremely 
difficult medium to use, and sometimes when one has spent days trying to 
say a thing clearly one finds that one has only said it dully; above all, the 
writing of a poem brings one face to face with one's own personality with 
all its familiar and clumsy limitations. In every other phase of existence, one 
can exercise the orthodoxy of a conventional routine: one can be polite to 
one's friends, one can get through the day at the office, one can pose, one 
can draw attention to one's position in society, one is in a word dealing 
with men. In poetry, one is wrestling with a god. 

Usually, when I have completed a poem, I think 'this is my best poem,' 
and I wish to publish it at once. This is partly because I only write when 
I have something new to say, which seems more worth while than what 
I have said before, partly because optimism about my present and future 
makes me despise my past. A few days after I have finished a poem, I rele- 
gate it to the past of all my other wasted efforts, all the books I do not wish 
to open. 

Perhaps the greatest pleasure I have got from poems that I have written 
is when I have heard some lines quoted which I have not at once recog- 
nized. And I have thought 'how good and how interesting,* before I have 
realized that they are my own. 

In common with other creative writers I pretend that I am not, and I am, 
exceedingly affected by unsympathetic criticism, whilst praise usually makes 
me suspect that the reviewer does not know what he is talking about. Why 
are writers so sensitive to criticism ? Partly, because it is their business to be 
sensitive, and they are sensitive about this as alpout other things. Partly, 
because every serious creative writer is really in -his heart concerned with 
reputation and not with success (the most successful writer I have known, 

Stephen S fender 125 

Sir Hugh Walpole, was far and away the most unhappy about his reputa- 
tion, because the 'highbrows* did not like him) . Again, I suspect that every 
writer is secretly writing for someone, probably for a parent or teacher who 
did not believe in him in childhood. The critic who refuses to 'understand' 
immediately becomes identified with this person, and the understanding of 
many admirers only adds to the writer's secret bitterness if this one refusal 

Gradually one realizes that there is always this someone who will not 
like one's work. Then, perhaps, literature becomes a humble exercise of 
faith in being all that one can be in one's art, of being more than oneself, 
expecting little, but with a faith in the mystery of poetry which gradually 
expands into a faith in the mysterious service of truth. 

Yet what failures there are! And how much mud sticks to one; mud not 
thrown by other people but acquired in the course of earning one's living, 
answering or not answering the letters which one receives, supporting or 
not supporting public causes. All one can hope is that this mud is composed 
of little grains of sand which will produce pearls. 

From "The Making of a Poem," by Stephen Spender in Partisan Review, Summer, 1946. By 
permission of Mr. Spender's agents: Harold Matson, New York City, and A. D. Peters, London; 
and the publishers of Partisan Review, New York City. 

126 The Creative Process 

Brewster Ghisdin : THEBIRTHOFAPOEM 

DOUBT poems may be written in different ways; and one of these pre- 
cludes much examination, since the poem seems to issue from the dark of 
the mind without much awareness of how it comes. As John Peale Bishop 
has observed, all writing is to some degree automatic. But there is some- 
times a very full consciousness of the process, or of such of its aspects as are 
open to introspection. 

Many artists and thinkers have written about the creative process as they 
have observed it in themselves. Yet there are not many very full accounts of 
the production of specific works. Perhaps the most nearly complete is con- 
tained in Henri Poincare's essay "Mathematical Creation." And probably 
the best known is Poe's account of the writing of "The Raven/' which 
is possibly insincere. Even if the honesty of the reporter is unquestioned, his 
method, of recollection and introspection, is hazardous. Yet it seems to be 
the only approach that reveals the creative activities in any illuminating 
relation to the complex of meanings, the work of art or other invention, 
that is developed amid them. 

Brewster Ghiselin 127 

Once the work is begun, a poem may be completed in a few minutes 
or it may take years. "Bath of Aphrodite*' was produced in four writings: 
two pieces of verse, one of prose, and the final composition of thirty-three 
lines of verse, in which were included some of the meaning and substance 
of the earlier efforts, augmented and re-formed. 

The first fragment, "Anadyomene," was set down with only a few 
changes in September, 1938: 

In the autumn of this glass-sharp sea 
Her thighs curved like the Venus's-shell 
Wade and submerge, shine 
Wavering in trapped light; 
She returns to her own mystery, 
The sea from which she arose. 

What I was trying to say was, I suppose, what I finally managed to say in 
the ultimate poem or something like it. Unfortunately I could not know 
this. I could only note the discontent, frustration, and disappointment 
mingled with the excitement of realization that the lines gave me. 

For they did realize something. In some measure, they satisfied a need I 
had felt again and again, often associated with images of swimmers or 
waders in the ocean. It was as if the human beings in the dark water sur- 
faced with light were words of strangely moving sound suggesting a mar- 
velous import, which despite every effort I could not understand. 

But now I began to understand, mainly through grasping the intellectual 
form of the poem: an idea of the return of Aphrodite, or Venus, the foam- 
born, into the sea. Hence the tide "Anadyomene," the one who rises from 
the sea, an epithet of Aphrodite by which her origin is remembered. 

The image is of Venus; perhaps like the Botticellian figure standing on 
the shoreward shell, which can never cease to affect our sensibility. But now 
she is seen advancing into the waves. Behind her is the land, where she has 
sojourned and become human. Now she rides no magical shell blown by 
rose-scattering winds. She is only a woman wading into the ocean on an 
autumn morning. 

Yet in that image of a woman are qualities which the divine Aphrodite 
was created to embody. Her thighs are curved like the Venus's-shell, the 
antique cowry, whose wave-shedding forms suggest the collaborations of 
life and the sea and whose wheat-grain shape is the natural symbol of 
fecundity and of love. Entering the water, she is returning to something 
obscured or lost while she was on the land: her own mystery, her proper 
self. In a return to her Anadyomenean nature, without ceasing to be a 
woman in the real and present world, she is made whole again. 

The form, therefore, is a comment on our knowledge and on the abstrao 

128 The Creative Process 

tions by which we live. It is a way of saying that a woman may be something 
more than our current definitions comprehend. 

But in this first fragment these matters are imperfectly conveyed. All be- 
ginning and end, the poem is scarcely ample enough to engage the mind. 
And the auditory form is weak: it fails to establish firmly and fully moods 
and images and the relations between them. The structure does not realize 
very much. 

Besides, there is something of primary importance in the poem which is 
not at all clear: the meaning of the sea in relation to that image of a woman 
in the fullness of her being. For the sea is not simply a means, picturesque 
but arbitrary, of relating the woman to the goddess. The sea is some sort of 
creative mystery relative to the woman and goddess alike, and of large 
significance. The obscurity of this meaning was for me the central failure 
of the fragmentary poem. 

The writing, however, was finished, at least for the time being. In that 
first form it was no more than an intimation, like an embryonic heartbeat. 
The poem was as yet unborn. 

One morning weeks later, some words came to my mind and I wrote them 
down, three lines mainly about transient shore birds such as are seen along 
the California coast in late summer and early autumn. I had had that coast 
much in mind, an exciting and satisfying image. It was natural that I 
should write about it. The lines flew into my mind as casually and effort- 
lessly as the shore birds of the coast fly across one's vision out of the light and 
foam mist. I saw an image of the wader, and birds flashing past her in the 
lighted morning, and in the same instant I had the lines: 

And what are these . . .visitors that pass her? 
Shore birds with wings like thin 
Fins against the morning. 

Having written that, I saw through those wings the light of the whole coast. 
Often a poem is written with the eye intent upon an object that isn't 
there, before it. Such an object must be excitingly significant, capable of 
making the mind glow about it. Half the trick then lies in keeping the 
object spotted in the central furnacelight of the aroused excitement while 
the construction of the poem goes on in relative shadow, as if it were a 
thing of slight importance. For under these circumstances the structure 
may be played with freely and irreverently. Because the structure then 
never becomes an absolute, all the freedom of the mind's action is preserved 
to the last moment of the creative labor. To intensely imagine the wader 
in the sun and sealight of the coast was therefore an important part of the 
process of bringing forth the poern. 

Brewster Ghiselin 129 

But I wrote no more that day I forget why; perhaps I was on the way 
to teach a class. I watched those birds go down the shore and saw the red 
and yellow cliffs of Torrey Pines rise in the light behind them. The ima- 
gined scene was taking shape in the only way that can succeed : according 
to promptings that are secret because they are of the mind's wholeness. The 
whole activity of the mind always transcends the specific activity that forms 
the pattern of any moment of consciousness. The mind, moreover, belongs 
to time at least when it is sane. The maintenance of its sanity requires its 
orderly implication in the processes of the world. And therefore it must 
give itself to change. The order inherited from any preceding moment often 
will not perfectly adjust it to the realities of the present moment, the pres- 
sures of the instant. Then, to make possible a new adjustment, the closed 
system of the inherited order the accepted pattern of consciousness must 
be broken. Of itself it will not alter, it must be penetrated from without. It 
must be washed over, flooded, drowned, and perhaps dissolved, in the 
greater activity of the whole mind. This is the disordering that makes order 
possible, out of which all living order comes. 

Because the creation of a poem involves a reordering of consciousness, its 
development cannot be forced and regulated wholly by an effort of con- 
scious authority. Often one must wait for the development. As Paul Valery 
has pointed out, one must allow the mind the liberty of its own process. 
That is perhaps what Keats had m mind when he said poetry should come 
"as naturally as the leaves to a tree, [or] it had better not come at all." We 
may not suppose that he meant that poetry should be written without effort 
or with little. For we know from his manuscripts that he labored to make 
his poems complete and right. He reworked whole passages, tried variant 
readings, struck out a word to put another in its place and sometimes 
struck out that and wrote in the first again. As every poet does. 

I waited a long time for my two fragments to come to something. Some- 
times I repeated the three lines, and less often the earlier ones, partly in 
expectation of revising them, but mostly in order to rouse the images that 
made me feel my life. One day I noticed that I was saying instead of "visi- 
tors" "visitants." I was not quite sure of the new word, but it seemed right;. 
Doubtless I had known the meaning once, for the dictionary reassured me: 
it meant a visitor, and more specifically a migratory bird. 


In a way, those fragments of verse were preparation for certain passages in 
a story I began to write that winter; "Death of the Past," published the fol- 
lowing year in Story magazine. In the story, a character remembers a 
woman wading into the ocean: 
". . . now he remembered her bathing under the red cliflfs of Torrey Pines, 

730 The Creative Process 

where the cry of the surf on the flat sand is one unceasing call as in a shell. 
Mist rises from the many breakers falling or pushing their foam before 
them, and in the lighted mist Ann wades ankle-deep the slow shoreward 
wash the dark sand shows through; she wades the first ribbed pools deep- 
ening to her knees, leaping up her thighs; she leans against a wave, wades 
deeper, lies forward into the next bank of foam. 

"He had often watched her thus entering the water. She had revealed by 
her act and form unphrasable relations of man to woman and woman to 
the sea." 

The description does not exist for itself, of course. It is intended to define 
and make more concrete the relation between the two characters; to pre- 
pare for the development of a similar relation between one of those charac- 
ters and a third; and to suggest a feeling of some profound acceptance. 

The passage required a small amount of revision before I got it right. 
I remember being pleased because it embodied more accurately and fully 
what I had been trying to bring to life in the fragmentary poems. For its 
purpose in the story it seemed right. But the meaning of the sea in relation 
to the woman, and, as I now saw, to human beings generally, remained 
almost as obscure as ever. 

"Death of the Past" is the prose twin of the poem perhaps the Siamese 
twin, since they are joined by the ligature of a phrase. Both were finished 
in the summer of 1939. One Saturday morning in the midst of a too busy 
summer session, I was impelled to work on the poem. I remember mostly 
the inconvenience: if I suppressed the impulse it might not come again. 
I laid other work aside and by Sunday evening I had got the poem into 
what proved to be its final form: 


She rises among boulders. Naked, alone, 
In freshets of the seacliff wind she stands; 
She comes rose-golden over the color of stones, 
Down to the wide plane of the seaward sand. 

And what are these . . . visitants that pass her ? 
Shorebirds with wings like thin 
Fins against the morning. 

She wades in shallows warmer than the air 
And sees the long push of the promised foam, 
She feels the chill that draws her breath like fear, 
And wading slowly feels for the deeper cold. . . . 

Brewster Ghiselin 

What voices twitter and fade along that shore? 
The godwit and the killdeer and the curlew. 
The turnstone and the willet. 

And now the water is silvering to her knees. 
Over the sunmarks flurried about her feet 
She sees a hundred harmless fishes flit 
In the autumn of the glass-sharp morning sea. 

What birds are those that ride the rising seas ? 
Slow shorelong pelicans 
Fanned by the shoreward green. 

Her thighs curved like the Venus's-shell submerge, 
She wades into deep waves, her body drowns 
Up to the lifted breasts and lifting arms; 
Foam floats the tendrils of her tightening curls. 

What birds are these that fall with never a swerve ? 
Far waves where morning burns, 
Terns shatter into glass. 

Now the rich moment, as she leans and swims 
Folded into a hissing slope of foam : 
The sea receives the shape that once it gave: 
Her gold and roses to its dazzle of waves, 
The shadow of all her secrets to its shade. 

It may seem strange that so short a poem should take so much time to 
write. The condition of the crowded two pages of the penciled manuscript 
explains why: it is blurred with repeated erasures, strawed with deletions, 
spattered with glosses and variants. It appears almost as full of doubt as of 

And the lines are in disorder. Near the top of the first page are the three 
lines about the shore birds. That was the nucleus of the poem, the first 
finished element of its structure and a clue to the mood. Six lines are 
scrawled in above it. One has been mauled, wrecked, and crossed out. Its 
condition is significant, for it contains the traces of a formative meditation, 
one'of those difficult, time-consuming researches into the relation between 
the depths of the excited mind and the possibilities of the medium, whereby 
the worker little by little shapes his structure and clarifies his creative in- 
tention. For that intention is not ever quite clear in the beginning; it only 

j_j2 The Creative Process 

becomes so upon the completion of the poem. The poem is its only exact 
and explicit definition. 

The line in question is not quite legible in every part and in all its variant 
forms. But it is clearly the prototype of the second line of the completed 
poem. The earliest legible reading was: 

Lapped in the struggles of the silken wind. 

In writing the prose passage of the story, I had intended to suggest, as I 
have said, a certain feeling of acceptance. In this line I tried to suggest that 
feeling by giving a sense of the touch and pressure upon the flesh of the 
enclosing and dynamic air. The word "struggles" gave the willful violence 
of the wind, "silken" smoothed the touch to sensuousness, "lapped" made 
the touch everywhere complete, so that the relation was nowhere denied. 
But the line was nevertheless not quite satisfying. I tried another form: 

Lapped in the silken struggles of the air. 

This opened the line out at the end: the long vowel of "air" trailed off in the 
soft continuant of the "r." And this gave a sense of the open extent o the 
atmosphere: space widened and I could feel the sky. 

But "silken struggles" seemed oversensuous. This was not what I wanted 
and I restored the earlier version : 

Lapped in the struggles of the silken wind. 

What was wrong with it? Perhaps "silken" was wrong even in this less 
emphatic position. It has precious and indoor connotations. Whereas I was 
trying to create a sense of fresh and casual contact with the natural world. 
I knew, moreover, that I was going to build my poem to give expression 
to that sense of coming into touch with the natural world, most finally and 
fully through the symbolic immersion of my swimmer in the sea. There 
was plenty of time to create the desired impression. And I saw now that 
there was something wrong, in trying to create it fully in the early part of 
the poem. For it was a part of the climactic development of the vision. 
Enough, if I could anticipate the water in the handling of the image of the 
wind. Instead of the wide air, I put the wind-rebuffing cliffs behind the 
woman, the hard and fixed forms of the land which she is about to turn 
away from to the flow of wind and water: 

In freshets of the seacliff wind she stands. 

Now I began to see more clearly and fully what I was trying to say: that 
she belonged both to the knd and to the water, to the fixed and the flowing. 
I saw her colored with the earth colors of rose and gold, walking over the 
color o the earth: 

Bfewster Ghiselin 

She comes rose-golden over the color of stones, 
Down to the wide plane of the seaward sand. 

Perhaps because she has lived too much in consciousness of the land, the 
world of finished and separate forms, she turns in need of balance to the 
enfolding flow of the water. I saw too why the season must be autumn, 
the season of dissolving forms. The very birds are those of autumn and of 
the margin between the two worlds of land and sea. 

But as she wades deeper the voices of the shore birds dwindle to faint 
twitters and are gone. She moves a little fearful into the unknown unchart- 
able water, sees the birds of the lifted surf, the pelicans, and those that feed 
beyond it, the terns. The sea receives her wholly, body and psyche, to itself: 

Her gold and roses to its dazzle of waves, 
The shadow of all her secrets to its shade. 

As earlier she was seen to have qualities of the land, earth colors and fixed 
form, so she is seen now to have predominantly the qualities of the water, 
its movement of lighted surfaces over secret depths. 

Thus the immersion symbolizes also the woman's acceptance of her full 
nature, of the reality of her inner life as well as of the outer world. But in 
her body and consciousness the elements are unified in a particular life. 
Whereas the salt indeterminate ocean flood is the universal reservoir of ele- 
ments, the image of death but also of all new possibility, and hence of the 
life fountain itself. As Aphrodite, she is conceived as having risen out of 
the ocean, her flesh and spirit having formed out of its clear flow. So in her 
turning seaward she is remembering the mystery of birth and creation, and 
reestablishing in their relation of dependence upon the formative source 
the things that have been formed. And therefore her wading into the sea 
is an indication of her readiness for self-transcendence; it is an act of sub- 
mission to life, including what is unknown and uncontrollable in life, and 
a recognition that her being is grounded in something larger and richer 
than the personal body and ego. 

I did not understand all these things and grasp' their significance before 
I wrote the final lines. The writing was an aspect of the act of understand- 
ing. And of course I do not insist that all these meanings will appear more 
or less fully to the readers of the poem, though I should like to think that 
they will. 

The poem did not compose itself as directly and easily as this summary 
suggests. There were formal problems requiring continual manipulation 
of the materials, at the same time offering difficulties and providing a chal- 
lenge and stimulant. The poem was moving from the first toward an 

The Creative Process 

embodiment of an idea and impression of that integral unity of man with 
the restless universe and in all the elements of his own changeful being 
which is fullness of life. The formal intention, sensed more than thought, 
must therefore be to create through the process which constitutes the struc- 
ture of the poem an impression of richness and variety and change in com- 
bination with a high degree of integration. 

To this end, the patterns of rime are made in different ways: by using 
various sorts of echoes besides ordinary rime and by placing them at the 
beginning or center of some lines as well as at the end, by varying the rime 
schemes, and by superimposing on one scheme a suggestion of one or more 
others, as in the first quatrain. The primary stanzas, those defined for the 
eye as well as the ear, are linked into a continuous chain by rime or rime 
substitutes and are further contradicted or countered by means of stanzas 
defined by rime patterns that overlap the printed divisions in various ways. 
Thus every quatrain is extended by the line following, which belongs to 
the group by reason of length as well as rime, and the succeeding three-foot 
lines are extended by means of a rime on the third stress of the following 

These and most other structures were created with forethought and 
worked out in full consciousness. Some, such as the pattern made by the 
initial rimes, fins, turn, janned, terns, I did not see until the poem was 
finished, but I hesitate to call them accidental. Some appeared without con- 
scious intention and were then elaborated, or justified and allowed to stand. 
When first set down, the line 

The godwit and the killdeer and the curlew 

looked like a pentameter. But when I tried to shorten the line to the required 
trimeter, I was dissatisfied. Though perhaps the reasoning by which I per- 
suaded myself that the line was right as it stood is rationalization, it seemed 
that it read equally well as a trimeter, the second and third foot being 
paeons, or as a pentameter. It occurred to me besides that the structure 
reinforced the impression I had been working for, not only in adding an- 
other to the sort of feet used and in forming a union of the longer line 
with the shorter, but in suggesting two other systems of prosody, the 
dipodic and accentual. For the line reminds the ear of their typical music, 
and it may easily be scanned, and read, according to either: the dipodic 
(W|'U N U|'W X ^|'W) or the accentual (w'w|ww'u|uu'w). I will say 
nothing about the effect of all this on the next line. 

Though it is not always by calculation, it seems nevertheless by the 
strictest intent that the form is what it is. As in the human body, the parts 
tend to merge into one another without absolute demarcation, often have 
multiple functions, are at the same time one thing and another thing, escap- 

Brewster Ghiselin 135 

ing the outlines of any one pattern applied in abstract analysis. Thus they 
may suggest also the nature of the spiritual, the wholeness and the fullness 
of complete experience. 

In the poem the meanings made explicit in my analysis subsist in the form 
of impressions not primarily intellectual, yet with intellectual implications. 
Certainly any adequate poetic statement must have directly or indirectly its 
weight of meaning for the intellect. Yet it is the intellectual meaning which 
chiefly comes clear in an expository account such as this one. Beside the 
actual poem even the most exhaustive description should be seen to be a 
relatively barren abstraction. 

From **The Birth of a Poem," by Brewster Ghiselin in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, October, 
1946. By permission of the publishers of Poetry, Chicago. 

The Creative Process 


JN THIS first occasion, which will probably be the last, o my writing 
about my own verse, I could plead in excuse the example of Edgar Allan 
Poe, who wrote about himself in an essay called "The Philosophy of Com- 
position." But in our age the appeal to authority is weak, and I am of my 
age. What I happen to know about the poem that I shall discuss is limited. 
I remember merely my intention in writing it; I do not know whether the 
poem is good; and I do not know its obscure origins. 

How does one happen to write a poem: where does it come from? That 
is the question asked by the psychologists or the geneticists of poetry. Of 
late I have not read any of the genetic theories very attentively : years ago I 
read one by Mr. Conrad Aiken; another, I think, by Mr. Robert Graves; but 
I have forgotten them. I am not ridiculing verbal mechanisms, dreams, or 
repressions as origins of poetry; all three of them and more besides may 
have a great deal to do with it. Nor should I ignore Mr. L A. Richards, 
whose theories I have read a great deal: to him a poem seems to induce a 
kind of ideal harmony out of the greatest number of our appetites, which 

Allen Tate iyj 

ordinarily jangle, and the reader gets the same harmony or "ordering of the 
mind" second-hand only it is really as good as first-hand since the poet 
differs from the mere reader by the fine hair of his talent for constructing 
appetitive harmonies in words. While this theory may be false, I can only 
say that, given a few premises which I shall not discuss, it is logical: I do not 
care whether it is false or true. Other psychological theories say a good deal 
about compensation. A poem is an indirect effort of a shaky man to justify 
himself to happier men, or to present a superior account of his relation to 
a world that allows him but little certainty, and would allow equally little 
to the happier men if they did not wear blinders according to the poet. 
For example, a poet might be a man who could not get enough self -justifica- 
tion out of being an automobile salesman (whose certainty is a fixed quota 
of cars every month) to rest comfortably upon it. So the poet, who wants to 
be something that he cannot be, and is a failure in plain life, makes up 
fictitious versions of his predicament that are interesting even to other per- 
sons because nobody is a perfect automobile salesman. Everybody, alas, 
suffers a little ... I constantly read this kind of criticism of my own verse. 
According to its doctors, my one intransigent desire is to have been a Con- 
federate general, and because I could not or would not become anything 
else, I set up for poet and began to invent fictions about the personal ambi- 
tions that my society has no use for. 

Although a theory may not be "true," it may make certain insights avail- 
able for a while; and I have deemed it proper to notice theories of the 
genetic variety because a poet talking about himself is often expected, as the 
best authority, to explain the origins of his poems. But persons interested in 
origins are seldom quick to use them. Poets, in their way, are practical men; 
they are interested in results. What is the poem, after it is written? That is 
the question. Not where it came from, or why. The Why and Where can 
never get beyond the guessing stage because, in the language of those who 
think it can, poetry cannot be brought to "laboratory conditions." The only 
real evidence that any critic may bring before his gaze is the finished poem. 
For some reason most critics have a hard time fixing their minds directly 
under their noses > and before they see the object that is there they use a 
telescope upon the horizon to see where it came from. They are woodcutters 
who do their job by finding out where the ore came from in the iron of the 
steel of the blade of the axe that Jack built. I do not say that this procedure 
is without its own contributory insights; but the insights are merely con- 
tributory and should not replace the poem, which is the object upon which 
they must be focused. A poem may be an instance of morality, of social 
conditions, of psychological history; it may instance all its qualities, but 
never one of them alone, nor any two or three; nor ever less than all. 

138 The Creative Process 

Genetic theories, I gather, have been cherished academically with de- 
tachment. Among "critics" they have been useless and not quite disinter- 
ested: I have myself found them applicable to the work of poets whom I do 
not like. That is the easiest way. 

I say all this because it seems to me that my verse or anybody else's is 
merely a way of knowing something: if the poem is a real creation, it is a 
kind of knowledge that we did not possess before. It is not knowledge 
"about" something else; the poem is the fullness of that knowledge. We 
know the particular poem, not what it says that we can restate. In a manner 
of speaking, the poem is its own knower, neither poet nor reader knowing 
anything that the poem says apart from the words of the poem. I have ex- 
pressed this view elsewhere in other terms, and it has been accused of 
aestheticism or art for art's sake. But let the reader recall the historic position 
of Catholicism : nulla solus extra ecclesiam. That must be religionism . There 
is probably nothing wrong with art for art's sake if we take the phrase 
seriously, and not take it to mean the kind of poetry written in England 
forty years ago. Religion always ought to transcend any of its particular 
uses; and likewise the true art for art's sake view can be held only by persons 
who are always looking for things that they can respect apart from use 
(though they may be useful), like poems, fly-rods, and formal gardens.. . 
These are negative postulates, and I am going to illustrate them with some 
commentary on a poem called "Ode to the Confederate Dead." 


That poem is "about" solipsism, a philosophical doctrine which says that we 
create the world in the act of perceiving it; or about Narcissism, or any 
other ism that denotes the failure of the human personality to function 
objectively in nature and society. Society (and "nature" as modern society 
constructs it) appears to offer limited fields for the exercise of the whole 
man, who wastes his energy piecemeal over separate functions that ought 
to come under a unity of being. (Until the last generation, only certain 
women were whores, having been set aside as special instances of sex amid 
a social scheme that held the general belief that sex must be part of a whole; 
now the general belief is that sex must be special.) Without unity we get the 
remarkable self -consciousness of our age. Everybody is talking about this 
evil, and a great many persons know what ought to be done to correct it. 
As a citizen I have my own prescription, but as a poet I am concerned with 
the experience of "solipsism." And an experience of it is not quite the same 
thing as a philosophical statement about it. 

I should have trouble connecting solipsism and the Confederate dead in 
a rational thesis; I should make a fool of myself in the discussion, because 
I know no more of the Confederate dead or of solipsism than hundreds of 

Allen Tatc 

other people. (Possibly less: the dead Confederates may be presumed to 
have a certain privacy; and as for solipsism, I blush in the presence of 
philosophers, who know all about Bishop Berkeley; I use the term here in 
its strict etymology.) And if I call this interest in one's ego Narcissism, I 
make myself a logical ignoramus, and I take liberties with mythology. I use 
Narcissism to mean only preoccupation with self; it may be love or hate. 
But a good psychiatrist knows that it means self-love only, and otherwise 
he can talk about it more coherently, knows more about it than I shall ever 
hope or desire to know. He would look at me professionally if I uttered 
the remark that the modern squirrel cage of our sensibility, the extreme 
introspection of our time, has anything whatever to do with the Confederate 

But when the doctor looks at literature it is a question whether he sees it: 
the sea boils and pigs have wings because in poetry all things are possible 
if you are man enough. They are possible because in poetry the disparate 
elements are not combined in logic, which can join things only under cer- 
tain categories and under the law of contradiction; they are combined in 
poetry rather as experience, and experience has decided to ignore logic, ex- 
cept perhaps as another field of experience. Experience means conflict, our 
natures being what they are, and conflict means drama. Dramatic experience 
is not logical; it may be subdued to the kind of coherence that we indicate 
when we speak, in criticism, of form. Indeed, as experience, this conflict is 
always a logical contradiction, or philosophically an antinomy. Serious 
poetry deals with the fundamental conflicts that cannot be logically re- 
solved: we can state the conflicts rationally, but reason does not relieve us 
of them. Their only final coherence is the formal re-creation of art, which 
"freezes" the experience as permanently as a logical formula, but without, 
like the formula, leaving all but the logic out. 

Narcissism and the Confederate dead cannot be connected logically, or 
even historically; even were the connection an historical fact, they would 
not stand connected as art, for no one experiences raw history. The proof of 
the connection must lie, if anywhere, in the experienced conflict which is 
the poem itself. Since one set of references for the conflict is the historic 
Confederates, the poem, if it is successful, is a certain section of history made 
into experience, but only on this occasion, and on these terms: even the 
author of the poem has no experience of its history apart from the occasion 
and the terms. 

It will be understood that I do not claim even a partial success in the 
junction of the two "ideas" in the poem that I am about to discuss. I am 
describing an intention, and the labor of revising the poem a labor spread 
over ten years- fairly exposes the lack of confidence that I have felt and still 
feel in it All the tests of its success in style and versification would come in 

140 The Creative Process 

the end to a single test, and answer, yes or no, to the question: Assuming 
that the Confederates and Narcissus are not yoked together by mere 
violence, has the poet convinced the reader that, on the specific occasion of 
this poem, there is a necessary yet hitherto undetected relation between 
them? By necessary I mean dramatically relevant, a relation "discovered" 
in terms of the particular occasion, not historically argued or philosophically 
deduced. Should the question that I have just asked be answered yes, then 
this poem or any other with its specific problem could be said to have form: 
what was previously a merely felt quality of life has been raised to the level 
of experience it has become specific, local, dramatic, "formal" that is to 
say, zVformed. 

The structure of the Ode is simple. Figure to yourself a man stopping at the 
gate of a Confederate graveyard on a late autumn afternoon. The leaves are 
falling; his first impressions bring him the "rumor of mortality"; and the 
desolation barely allows him, at the beginning of the second stanza, the 
conventionally heroic surmise that the dead will enrich the earth, "where 
these memories grow." From those quoted words to the end of that passage 
he pauses for a baroque meditation on the ravages of time, concluding with 
the figure of the "blind crab." This creature has mobility but no direction, 
energy but no purposeful world to use it in: in the entire poem there are 
only two explicit symbols for the looked-in ego; the crab is the first and less 
explicit symbol, a mere hint, a planting of the idea that will become overt in 
its second instance the jaguar towards the end. The crab is the first intima- 
tion of the nature of the moral conflict upon which the drama of the poem 
develops: the cut-off-ness of the modern "intellectual man" from the world. 

The next long passage or "strophe," beginning "You know who have 
waited by the wall," states the other term of the conflict. It is the theme of 
heroism, not merely moral heroism, but heroism in the grand style, elevating 
even death from mere physical dissolution into a formal ritual : this heroism 
is a formal ebullience of the human spirit in an entire society, not private, 
romantic illusion something better than moral heroism, great as that may 
be, for moral heroism, being personal and individual, may be achieved by 
certain men in all ages, even ages of decadence. But the late Hart Crane's 
commentary, in a letter, is better than any I can make; he described the 
theme as the "theme of chivalry, a tradition of excess (not literally excess, 
rather active faith) which cannot be perpetuated in the fragmentary cosmos 
of today 'those desires which should be yours tomorrow/ but which, you 
know, will not persist nor find any way into action." 

The structure then is the objective frame for the tension between the two 
themes, "active faith" which has decayed, and the "fragmentary cosmos" 
which surrounds us. (I must repeat here that this is not a philosophical 

Allen Tate 141 

thesis; it is an analytical statement of a conflict that is concrete within the 
poem.) In contemplating the heroic theme the man at the gate never quite 
commits himself to the illusion of its availability to him. The most that he 
can allow himself is the fancy that the blowing leaves are charging soldiers, 
but he rigorously returns to the refrain: "Only the wind" or the "leaves 
flying." I suppose it is a commentary on our age that the man at the gate 
never quite achieves the illusion that the leaves are heroic men, so that he 
may identify himself with them, as Keats and Shelley too easily and too 
beautifully did with nightingales and west winds. More than this, he cau- 
tions himself, reminds himself repeatedly of his subjective prison, his 
solipsism, by breaking off the half-illusion and coming back to the refrain of 
wind and leaves a refrain that, as Hart Crane said, is necessary to the 
"subjective continuity." 
These two themes struggle for mastery up to the passage, 

We shall say only the leaves whispering 
In the improbable mist of nightfall 

which is near the end. It will be observed that the passage begins with a 
phrase taken from the wind-leaves refrain the signal that it has won. The 
refrain has been fused with the main stream of the man's reflections, 
dominating them; and he cannot return even to an ironic vision of the 
heroes. There is nothing but death, the mere naturalism of death at that 
spiritual extinction in the decay of the body. Autumn and the leaves are 
death; the men who exemplified in a grand style an "active faith" are dead; 
there are only the leaves. 
Shall we then worship death . . . 

...set up the grave 

In the house? The ravenous grave . . . 

that will take us before our time? The question is not answered, although 
as a kind of morbid romanticism it might, if answered affimatively, provide 
the man with an illusory escape from his solipsism; but he cannot accept it. 
Nor has he been able to live in his immediate world, the fragmentary 
cosmos. There is no practical solution, no solution offered for the edification 
of moralists. (To those who may identify the man at the gate with the 
author of the poem I would say: He differs from the author in not accepting 
a "practical solution," for the author's dilemma is perhaps not quite so ex- 
clusive as that of the meditating man.) The main intention of the poem has 
been to make dramatically visible the conflict, to concentrate it, to present 
it, in Mr. R. P. Blackmur's phrase, as "experienced form" not as a logical 

742 The Creative Process 

The closing image, that of the serpent, is the ancient symbol of time, and 
I tried to give it the credibility of the commonplace by placing it in a 
mulberry bush with the faint hope that the silkworm would somehow be 
implicit. But time is also death. If that is so, then space, or the Becoming, is 
life; and I believe there is not a single spatial symbol in the poem, "Sea- 
space" is allowed the "blind crab"; but the sea, as appears plainly in the 
passage beginning, "Now that the salt of their blood . . ." is life only in so 
far as it is the source of the lowest forms of life, the source perhaps of all 
life, but life undifferentiated, halfway between life and death. This passage 
is a contrasting inversion of the conventional 

. . . inexhaustible bodies that are not 
Dead, but feed the grass . . . 

the reduction of the earlier, literary conceit to a more naturalistic figure 
derived from modern biological speculation. These "buried Caesars" will 
not bloom in the hyacinth but will only make saltier the sea. 

The wind-leaves refrain was added to the poem in 1930, nearly five years 
after the first draft was written. I felt that the danger of adding it was small 
because, implicit in the long strophes of meditation, the ironic commentary 
on the vanished heroes was already there, giving the poem such dramatic 
tension as it had in the earlier version. The refrain makes the commentary 
more explicit, more visibly dramatic, and renders quite plain, as Hart 
Crane intimated, the subjective character of the imagery throughout. But 
there was another reason for it, besides the increased visualization that it 
imparts to the dramatic conflict. It "times" the poem better, offers the 
reader frequent pauses in the development of the two themes, allows him 
occasions of assimilation; and on the whole this was my hope and inten- 
tion the refrain makes the poem seem longer than it is and thus eases the 
concentration of imagery without, I hope, sacrificing a possible effect of 

I have been asked why I called the poem an ode. I first called it an elegy. It 
is an ode only in the sense in which Cowley in the seventeenth century mis- 
understood the real structure of the Pindaric ode. Not only are the meter 
and rhyme without fixed pattern, but in another feature the poem is even 
further removed from Pindar than Abraham Cowley was: a purely sub- 
jective meditation would not even in Cowley's age have been called an ode. 
I suppose in so calling it I intended an irony: the scene of the poem is not a 
public celebration, it is a lone man by a gate. 

The dominant rhythm is "mounting," the dominant meter iambic penta- 
meter varied with six-, four-, and three-stressed lines; but this was not 
planned in advance for variety. I adapted the meter to the effect desired at 

Allen Tate 

the moment. The model for the irregular rhyming was "Lycidas," but other 
models could have served. The rhymes in a given strophe I tried to adjust 
to the rhythm and the texture of feeling and image. For example, take this 
passage in the second strophe: 

Autumn is desolation in the plot 

Of a thousand acres where these memories grow 

From the inexhaustible bodies that are not 

Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row. 

Thinly of the autumns that have come and gone! 

Ambitious November with the humors of the year, 

With a particular zeal for every slab, 

Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot 

On the slabs, a win'g chipped here, an arm there: 

The brute curiosity of an angel's stare 

Turns you, like them, to stone, 

Transforms the heaving air 

Till plunged to a heavier world below 

You shift your sea-space blindly 

Heaving, turning li\e the blind crab. 

There is rhymed with year (to many persons, perhaps, only a half-rhyme) , 
and I hoped the reader would unconsciously assume that he need not expect 
further use of that sound for some time. So when the line, "The brute 
curiosity of an angel's stare," comes a moment later, rhyming with year- 
there, I hoped that the violence of image would be further reinforced by 
the repetition of a sound that was no longer expected. I wanted the shock to 
be heavy; so I felt that I could not afford to hurry the reader away from it 
until he had received it in full. The next two lines carry on the image at a 
lower intensity: the rhyme, "Transforms the heaving air," prolongs the 
moment of attention upon that passage, while at the same time it ought to 
begin dissipating the shock, both by the introduction of a new image and 
by reduction of the "meaning" to a pattern of sound, the ere-rhymes. I calcu- 
lated that the third use of that sound (stare) would be a surprise, the fourth 
(air) a monotony. I purposely made the end words of the third from last 
and last lines below and crab delayed rhymes for row and slab, the last 
being an internal and half-dissonant rhyme for the sake of bewilderment 
and incompleteness, qualities by which the man at the gate is at the moment 

This is elementary but I cannot vouch for its success. As the dramatic 
situation of the poem is the tension that I have already described, so the 
rhythm is an attempt at a series of "modulations" back and forth between a 
formal regularity, for the heroic emotion, and a broken rhythm, with 

144 The Creative Process 

scattering imagery, for the failure of that emotion. This is "imitative form," 
which Yvor Winters deems a vice worth castigation. I have pointed out that 
the passage, ^You know who have waited by the wall," presents the heroic 
theme of "active faith"; it will be observed that the rhythm, increasingly 
after "You who have waited for the angry resolution," is almost perfectly 
regular iambic, with only a few initial inversions and weak endings. The 
passage is meant to convey a plenary vision, the actual presence, of the 
exemplars of active faith: the man at the gate at that moment is nearer to 
realizing them than at any other in the poem; hence the formal rhythm. 
But the vision breaks down; the wind-leaves refrain supervenes; and the 
next passage, "Turn your eyes to the immoderate past, 5 * is the irony of the 
preceding realization. With the self-conscious historical sense he turns his 
eyes into the past. The next passage after this, beginning, "You hear the 
shout . . ." is the failure of the vision in both phases, the pure realization 
and the merely historical. He cannot "see" the heroic virtues; there is wind, 
rain, leaves. But there is sound; for a moment he deceives himself with it. 
It is the noise of the battles that he has evoked. Then comes the figure of the 
rising sun of those battles; he is "lost in that orient of the thick and fast," 
and he curses his own moment, "the setting sun." The "setting sun" I tried 
to use as a triple image, for the decline of the heroic age and for the actual 
scene of late afternoon, the latter being not only natural desolation but 
spiritual desolation as well. Again for a moment he thinks he hears the 
battle shout, but only for a moment; then the silence reaches him. 

Corresponding to the disintegration of the vision just described, there 
has been a breaking down of the formal rhythm. The complete breakdown 
comes with the images of the "mummy" and the "hound bitch." (Hound 
bitch because the hound is a hunter, participant of a formal ritual.) The 
failure of the vision throws the man back upon himself, but upon himself 
he cannot bring to bear the force of sustained imagination. He sees himself 
in random images (random to him, deliberate with the author) of some- 
thing lower than he ought to be: the human image is only that of preserved 
death; but if he is alive he is an old hunter, dying. The passages about the 
mummy and the bitch are deliberately brief slight rhythmic stretches. 
(These are the only verses I have written for which I thought of the move- 
ment first, then cast about for the symbols.) 

I believe the term modulation denotes in music the uninterrupted shift 
from one key to another : I do not know the term for change of rhythm 
without change of measure. I wish to describe a similar change in verse 
rhythm; it may be convenient to think of it a modulation of a certain kind. 
At the end of the passage that I have been discussing the final words are 
"Hears the wind only." The phrase closes the first main division of the 
poem. I have loosely called the longer passages strophes, and if I were hardy 

Allen Tate 145 

enough to impose the classical organization of the lyric ode upon a baroque 
poem, I should say that these words bring to an end the Strophe, after which 
must come the next main division, or Antistrophe, which was often em- 
ployed to answer the matter set forth in the Strophe or to present it from 
another point of view. And that is precisely the significance of the next main 
division, beginning: "Now that the salt of their blood . . ." But I wanted this 
second division of the poem to arise out of the collapse of the first. It is plain 
that it would not have suited my purpose to round off the first section with 
some sort of formal rhythm; so I ended it with an unfinished line. The next 
division must therefore begin by finishing that line, not merely in meter 
but with an integral rhythm. I will quote the passage: 

The hound bitch 

Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar 
Hears the wind only. 

Now that the salt of their blood 
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea t 
Seals the malignant purity of the -flood 

The caesura, after only, is thus at the middle of the third foot. -(I do not give 
a full stress to wind, but attribute a "hovering stress" to wind and the first 
syllable of only.} The reader expects the foot to be completed by the stress 
on the next word. Now, as in a sense it is; but the phrase, "Now that the 
salt of their blood," is also the beginning of a new movement; it is two 
"dactyls" continuing more broadly the falling rhythm that has prevailed. 
But with the finishing off of the line with blood, the mounting rhythm is 
restored; the whole line from Hears to blood is actually an iambic penta- 
meter with liberal inversions and substitutions that were expected to create 
a counter-rhythm within the line. From the caesura on, the rhythm is new; 
but it has or was expected to have an organic relation to the preceding 
rhythm; and it signals the rise of a new statement of the theme. 

I have gone into this pasage in detail I might have chosen another not 
because I think it is successful, but because I labored with it; if it is a failure, 
or even an uninteresting success, it ought to offer as much technical instruc- 
tion to other persons as it would were it both successful and interesting. 
But a word more: the broader movement introduced by the new rhythm 
was meant to correspond, as a sort of Antistrophe, to the earlier formal move- 
ment beginning, "You know who have waited by the wall." It is a new 
formal movement with new feeling and new imagery. The heroic but 
precarious illusion of the earlier movement has broken down into the 
personal symbols of the mummy and the hound; the pathetic fallacy of the 

146 The Creative Process 

leaves as charging soldiers and the conventional "buried Caesar" theme have 
become rotten leaves and dead bodies wasting in the earth, to return after 
long erosion to the sea. In the midst of this naturalism, what shall the man 
say? What shall all humanity say in the presence of decay? The two themes, 
then, have been struggling for mastery; the structure of the poem thus 
exhibits the development of two formal passages that contrast the two 
themes. The two formal passages break down, the first shading into the 
second ("Now that the salt of their blood . . ."), the second one concluding 
with the figure of the jaguar, which is presented in a distracted rhythm left 
suspended at the end from a weak ending the word victim. This figure of 
the jaguar is the only explicit rendering of the Narcissus motif in the poem, 
but instead of a youth gazing into a pool, a predatory beast stares at a 
jungle stream, and leaps to devour himself. 
The next passage begins: 

What shall we say who have knowledge 
Carried to the heart? 

This is Pascal's war between heart and head, between finesse and geometric. 
Should the reader care to think of these lines as the gathering up of the two 
themes, now fused, into a final statement, I should see no objection to calling 
it the Epode. But upon the meaning of the lines from here to the end there 
is no need for further commentary. I have talked about the structure of the 
poem, not its quality. One can no more find the quality of one's own verse 
than one can find its value, and to try to find either is like looking into a 
glass for the effect that one's face has upon other persons. 

If anybody ever wished to know anything about this poem that he could 
not interpret for himself, I suspect that he is still in the dark. I cannot be- 
lieve that I have illuminated the difficulties that some readers have found in 
the style. But then I cannot, have never been able to, see any difficulties of 
that order. The poem has been much revised. I still think there is much to 
be said for the original barter instead of yield in the second line, and for 
Novembers instead of November in line fifteen. The revisions were not 
undertaken for the convenience of the reader but for the poem's own clarity, 
so that, word, phrase, line, passage, the poem might at worst come near its 
best expression. 

From "Narcissus as Narcissus," in Reason in Madness, by Allen Tate. Copyright 1935, 1936, 
X 937> J 93^> I94> I94 1 by the author. By permission of the publishers: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 
New York. 

Allen Tate 147 

Malcolm Cowley : REMEMBERING 


OOME YEARS ago in the New Republic, I told how Hart Crane used to 
write his poems. But since the poems are still being read, nine years after his 
suicide, in April, 1932, and since the meaning of his life is still being argued 
about, the story is worth repeating in more detail. 

There would be a Sunday afternoon party on Tory Hill, near Patterson, 
New York, in Slater Brown's unpainted and unremodeled farmhouse. I 
can't remember any of the jokes that were made, or why we laughted at 
them so hard; I can remember only the general atmosphere of youth and 
poverty and high spirits. Hart would be laughing twice as hard as the rest 
of us in the big, low-ceilinged kitchen; he would be drinking twice as much 
hard cider and contributing more than his share of the crazy metaphors 
and overblown epithets. Gradually he would fall silent and a little later we 
would find that he had disappeared. In lulls that began to interrupt the 
laughter, now Hart was gone, we would hear a new hubbub through the 
walls of the next room the phonograph playing a Cuban rumba, the type- 
writer clacking simultaneously; then the phonograph would run down and 

148 The Creative Process 

the typewriter stop while Hart changed the record, perhaps to a torch song, 
perhaps to Ravel's "Bolero." Sometimes he stamped across the room, de- 
claiming to the four walls and the slow spring rain. 

An hour later, after the rain had stopped, he would appear in the kitchen 
or on the croquet court, his face brick-red, his eyes burning, his already iron- 
gray hair bristling straight up from his skull. He would be chewing a five- 
cent cigar which he had forgotten to light. In his hands would be two or 
three sheets of typewritten manuscript, with words crossed out and new 
lines scrawled in. "Read that," he would say. "Isn't that the grrreatest poem 
ever written!" 

We would read it obediently, Allen Tate perhaps making a profound 
comment. The rest of us would get practically nothing out of it except the 
rhythm like that of a tom-tom and a few startling images. But we would all 
agree that it was absolutely superb. In Hart's state of exaltation there was 
nothing else we could say without driving him to rage or tears. 

But this story, which I have told before, contains neither the real begin- 
ning nor the real end. I later discovered that Hart would have been medi- 
tating over that particular poem for months or even years, scribbling verses 
on pieces of paper that he carried in his pockets and meanwhile waiting for 
the moment of pure inspiration when he could put them all together. In 
his patience he reminded me of another friend, a famous killer of wood- 
chucks, who instead of shooting at them from a distance with a high- 
powered rifle, and probably missing them, used to frighten them into their 
holes and wait till they came out again. Sometimes when they were slow 
about it, he said that he used to charm them out by playing his mouth-organ. 
In the same fashion, Hart tried to charm his inspiration out of its hiding 
place by drinking and laughing and playing the phonograph. 

As for the end of the story, it might be delayed for several weeks. Pain- 
fully, perseveringly and dead soberHart would revise his new poem, 
clarifying its images, correcting its meter and searching through dictionaries 
and thesauruses for exactly the right word. "The seal's wide spindrift gaze 
toward paradise," in the second of his "Voyages," was the result of a search 
that lasted for several days; I was then working in the same office and can 
remember his roar of jubilation when he found the word "spindrift" in 
Webster's Unabridged. Even after the poem had been completed, the 
manuscript mailed to Poetry or the Dial and perhaps accepted, he would 
still have changes to make. In the formal sense, he was badly educated, hav- 
ing left high school before he was graduated and having filled his head 
since then with an assortment of sometimes profound but uncoordinated 
knowledge. He was not even very intelligent, in the conventional sense of 
the word; as a problem-solving animal he was less than competent. But 

Malcolm Cowley 149 

nobody I knew, and very few people In the history of literature, were willing 
to spend so much time in perfecting a single poem to the moment of what 
seemed to be absolute Tightness. 

From "The Hearing Boy,* 1 excerpt from Exile's Return, by Malcolm Cowley. Copyright by the 
author 1941, 1951. By permission of the publishers: The Viking Press, Inc., New York City. 
Originally published in The New Republic. 

750 The Creative Process 



.T WAS YEARS ago, I remember, one Christmas Eve when I was dining with 
friends: a lady beside me made in the course of talk one of those allusions 
that I have always found myself recognising on the spot as "germs." The 
germ, wherever gathered, has ever been for me the germ of a "story," and 
most of the stories straining to shape under my hand have sprung from a 
single small seed, a seed as minute and wind-blown as that casual hint for 
"The Spoils of Poynton" dropped unwitting by my neighbour, a mere 
floating particle in the stream of talk. What above all comes back to me with 
this reminiscence is the sense of the inveterate minuteness, on such happy 
occasions, of the precious particle reduced, that is, to its mere fruitful 
essence. Such is the interesting truth about the stray suggestion, the wander- 
ing word, the vague echo, at touch of which the novelist's imagination 
winces as at the prick of some sharp point: its virtue is all in its needle-like 
quality, the power to penetrate as finely as possible. This fineness it is that 
communicates the virus of suggestion, anything more than the minimum 
of which spoils the operation. If one is given a hint at all designedly one is 

Henry James 

sure to be given too much; one's subject is in the merest grain, the speck of 
truth, o beauty, of reality, scarce visible to the common eyesince, I firmly 
hold, a good eye for a subject is anything but usual. Strange and attaching, 
certainly, the consistency with which the first thing to be done for the com- 
municated and seized idea is to reduce almost to nought the form, the air 
as of a mere disjoined and lacerated lump of life, in which we may have 
happened to meet it. Life being all inclusion and confusion, and art being 
all discrimination and selection, the latter, in search of the hard latent value 
with which alone it is concerned, sniffs round the mass as instinctively and 
unerringly as a dog suspicious of some buried bone. The difference here, 
however, is that, while the dog desires his bone but to destroy it, the artist 
finds in his tiny nugget, washed free of awkward accretions and hammered 
into a sacred hardness, the very stuff for a clear affirmation, the happiest 
chance for the indestructible. It at the same time amuses him again and 
again to note how, beyond the first step of the actual case, the case that con- 
stitutes for him his germ, his vital particle, his grain of gold, life persistently 
blunders and deviates, loses herself in the sand. The reason is of course that 
life has no direct sense whatever for the subject and is capable, luckily for 
us, of nothing but splendid waste. Hence the opportunity for the sublime 
economy of art, which rescues, which saves, and hoards and "banks," invest- 
ing and reinvesting these fruits of toil in wondrous useful "works" and thus 
making up for us, desperate spendthrifts that we all naturally are, the most 
princely of incomes. It is the subtle secrets of that system, however, that are 
meanwhile the charming study, with an endless attraction, above all in the 
question endlessly baffling indeed of the method at the heart of the mad- 
ness; the madness, I mean, of a zeal, among the reflective sort, so disinter- 
ested. If life, presenting us the germ, and left merely to herself in such a 
business, gives the case away, almost always, before we can stop her, what 
are the signs for our guidance, what the primary laws for a saving selection, 
how do we know when and where to intervene, where do we place the 
beginnings of the wrong or the right deviation? Such would be the ele- 
ments of an enquiry upon which, I hasten to say, it is quite forbidden me 
here to embark: I but glance at them in evidence of the rich pasture that at 
every turn surrounds the ruminant critic. The answer may be after all that 
mysteries here elude us, that general considerations fail or mislead, and 
that even the fondest of artists need ask no wider range than the logic of 
the particular case. The particular case, or in other words his relation to a 
given subject, once the relation is established, forms in itself a little world 
of exercise and agitation. Let him hold himself perhaps supremely fortu- 
nate if he can meet half the questions with which that air alone may swarm. 
So it was, at any rate, that when my amiable friend, on the Christmas 
Eve, before the table that glowed safe and fair through the brown London 

152 The Creative Process 

night, spoke of such an odd matter as that a good lady in the north, always 
well looked on, was at daggers drawn with her only son, ever hitherto ex- 
emplary, over the ownership of the valuable furniture of a fine old house 
just accruing to the young man by his father's death, I instantly became 
aware, with my "sense for the subject," of the prick of inoculation; the 
whole of the virus, as I have called it, being infused by that single touch. 
There had been but ten words, yet I had recognised in them, as in a flash, 
all the possibilities of the little drama of my "spoils," which glimmered 
then and there into life; so that when in the next breath I began to hear of 
action taken, on the beautiful ground, by our engaged adversaries, tipped 
each, from that instant, with the light of the highest distinction, I saw 
clumsy Life again at her stupid work. For the action taken, and on which 
my friend, as I knew she would, had already begun all complacently and 
benightedly further to report, I had absolutely, and could have, no scrap 
of use; one had been so perfectly qualified to say in advance: "It's the per- 
fect little workable thing, but she'll strangle it in the cradle, even while she 
pretends, all so cheeringly, to rock it; wherefore I'll stay her hand while yet 
there's time." I did n't, of course, stay her hand there never is in such cases 
"time"; and I had once more the full demonstration of the fatal futility of 
Fact. The turn taken by the excellent situation excellent, for development, 
if arrested in the right place, that is in the germ had the full measure of 
the classic ineptitude; to which with the full measure of the artistic irony 
one could once more, and for the thousandth time, but take off one's hat. 
It was not, however, that this in the least mattered, once the seed had been 
transplanted to richer soil; and I dwell on that almost inveterate redundancy 
of the wrong, as opposed to the ideal right, in any free flowering of the 
actual, by reason only of its approach to calculable regularity. 

If there was nothing regular meanwhile, nothing more so than the habit 
of vigilance, in my quickly feeling where interest would really lie, so I could 
none the less acknowledge afresh that these small private cheers of recog- 
nition made the spirit easy and the temper bland for the confused whole. 
I "took" in fine, on the spot, to the rich bare little fact of the two related 
figures, embroiled perhaps all so sordidly; and for reasons of which I could 
most probably have given at the moment no decent account. Had I been 
asked why they were, in that stark nudity, to say nothing of that ugliness 
of attitude, "interesting," I fear I could have said nothing more to the point, 
even to my own questioning spirit, than "Well, you'll seef ' By which of 
course I should have meant "Well, 7 shall see" confident meanwhile (as 
against the appearance or the imputation of poor taste) that interest would 
spring as soon as one should begin really to see anything. That points, I 
think, to a large part of the very source of interest for the artist: it resides 
in the strong consciousness of his seeing all for himself. He has to borrow 

Henry James 

his motive, which is certainly half the battle; and this motive is his ground, 
his site and his foundation. But after that he only lends and gives, only 
builds and piles high, lays together the blocks quarried in the deeps of his 
imagination and on his personal premises. He thus remains all the while 
in intimate commerce with his motive, and can say to himself what really 
more than anything else inflames and sustains him that he alone has the 
secret of the particular case, he alone can measure the truth of the direction 
to be taken by his developed data. There can be for him, evidently, only one 
logic for these things; there can be for him only one truth and one direc- 
tion the quarter in which his subject most completely expresses itself. The 
careful ascertainment of how it shall do so, and the art of guiding it with 
consequent authority since this sense of "authority" is for the master- 
builder the treasure of treasures, or at least the joy of joys renews in the 
modern alchemist something like the old dream of the secret of life. 

Extravagant as the mere statement sounds, one seemed accordingly to 
handle the secret of life in drawing the positive right truth out of the so 
easy muddle of wrong truths in which the interesting possibilities of that 
"row," so to call it, between mother and son over their household gods 
might have been stifled. I find it odd to consider, as I thus revert, that I 
could have had none but the most general warrant for "seeing anything in 
it," as the phrase would have been; that I could n't in the least, on the spot, 
as I have already hinted, have justified my faith. One thing was "in it," in 
the sordid situation, on the first blush, and one thing only though this, in 
its limited way, no doubt, a curious enough value: the sharp light it might 
project on th^t most modern of our current passions, the fierce appetite for 
the upholsterer's and joiner's and brazier's work, the chairs and tables, the 
cabinets and presses, the material odds and ends, of the more labouring 
ages. A lively mark of our manners indeed the diffusion of this curiosity 
and this avidity, and full of suggestion, dearly, as to their possible influence 
on other passions and other relations. On the face of it the "things'* them- 
selves would form the very centre of such a crisis; these grouped objects, 
all conscious of their eminence and their price, would enjoy, in any picture 
of a conflict, the heroic importance. They would have to be presented, they 
would have to be painted arduous and desperate thought; something 
would have to be done for them not too ignobly unlike the great array in 
which Balzac, say, would have marshalled them: that amount of workable 
interest at least would evidendy be "in it." 

It would be wrapped in the silver tissue of some such conviction, at any 
rate, that I must have laid away my prime impression for a rest not dis- 
turbed till long afterwards, till the year 1896, I make out, when there 
arose a question of my contributing three "short stories" to The Atlantic 
Monthly; or supplying rather perhaps a third to complete a trio two mem- 

154 The Creative Process 

bers of which had appeared. The echo of the situation mentioned to me at 
our Christmas Eve dinner awoke again, I recall, at that touch I recall, no 
doubt, with true humility, in view of my renewed mismeasurement of my 
charge. Painfully associated for me had "The Spoils o Poynton" remained, 
until recent re-perusal, with the awkward consequence of that fond error. 
The subject had emerged from cool reclusion all suffused with a flush of 
meaning; thanks to which irresistible air, as I could but plead in the event, 
I found myself as against a mere commercial austerity beguiled and led 
on. The thing had "come," the flower of conception had bloomed all in 
the happy dusk of indifference and neglect; yet, strongly and frankly as it 
might now appeal, my idea would n't surely overstrain a natural brevity. A 
story that could n't possibly be long would have inevitably to be "short," 
and out of the depths of that delusion it accordingly began to struggle. To 
my own view, after the "first number," this composition (which in the 
magazine bore another tide) conformed but to its nature, which was not 
to transcend a modest amplitude; but, dispatched in instalments, it felt 
itself eyed, from month to month, I seem to remember, with an editorial 
ruefulness excellently well founded from the moment such differences of 
sense could exist, that is, as to the short and the long. The sole impression 
it made, I woefully gathered, was that of length, and it has till lately, as I 
say, been present to me but as the poor little "long" thing. 

It began to appear in April, 1896, and, as is apt blessedly to occur for me 
throughout this process of revision, the old, the shrunken concomitants 
muster again as I turn the pages. They lurk between the lines; these serve 
for them as the barred seraglio-windows behind which, to the outsider ir* 
the glare of the Eastern street, forms indistinguishable seem to move and 
peer; "association" in fine bears upon them with its infinite magic. Peering 
through the lattice from without inward I recapture a cottage on a cliff- 
side, to which, at the earliest approach of the summer-time, redoubtable in 
London through the luxuriance of still other than "natural" forces, I had 
betaken myself to finish a book in quiet and to begin another in fear. The 
cottage was, in its kind, perfection; mainly by reason of a small paved ter- 
race which, curving forward from the cliff-edge like the prow of a ship, 
overhung a view as level, as purple, as full of rich change, as the expanse of 
the sea. The horizon was in fact a band of sea; a small red-roofed town, of 
great antiquity, perched on its sea-rock, clustered within the picture off to 
the right; while above one's head rustled a dense summer shade, that of a 
trained and arching ash, rising from the middle of the terrace, brushing 
the parapet with a heavy fringe and covering the place like a vast umbrella. 
Beneath this umbrella and really under exquisite protection "The Spoils of 
Poynton" managed more or less symmetrically to grow. 

Henry James 155 

I recall that I was committed to begin, the day I finished it, short o dire 
penalties, "The Other House"; with which work, however, of whatever 
high profit the considerations springing from it might be too, we have 
nothing to do here and to the felt jealousy of which, as that of a grudging 
neighbour, I allude only for sweet recovery of the fact, mainly interesting 
to myself I admit, that the rhythm of the earlier book shows no flurry of 
hand. I "liked** itthe earlier book: I venture now, after years, to welcome 
the sense of that amenity as well; so immensely refreshing is it to be moved, 
in any case, toward these retrospective simplicities. Painters and writers, 
I gather, are, when easily accessible to such appeals, frequently questioned 
as to those of their productions they may most have delighted in; but the 
profession of delight has always struck me as the last to consort, for the 
artist, with any candid account of his troubled effort ever the sum, for 
the most part, of so many lapses and compromises, simplifications and sur- 
renders. Which is the work in which he has n't surrendered, under dire 
difficulty, the best thing he meant to have kept? In which indeed, before 
the dreadful done, does n't he ask himself what has become of the thing 
all for the sweet sake of which it was to proceed to that extremity? Prefer- 
ence and complacency, on these terms, riot in general as they best may; not 
disputing, however, a grain of which weighty truth, I still make out, be- 
tween my reconsidered lines, as it were, that I must my opera-box of a 
terrace and my great green umbrella indeed aiding have assisted at the 
growth and predominance of Fleda Vetch. 

For something like Fleda Vetch had surely been latent in one's first ap- 
prehension of the theme; it wanted, for treatment, a centre, and, the most 
obvious centre being "barred," this image, while I still wondered, had, with 
all the assurance in the world, sprung up in its place. The real centre, as I 
say, the citadel of the interest, with the fight waged round it, would have 
been the felt beauty and value of the prize of battle, the Things, always the 
splendid Things, placed in the middle light, figured and constituted, with 
each identity made vivid, each character discriminated, and their common 
consciousness of their great dramatic part established. The rendered tribute 
of these honours, however, no vigilant editor, as I have intimated, could be 
conceived as allowing room for; since, by so much as the general glittering 
presence should spread, by so much as it should suggest the gleam of brazen 
idols and precious metals and inserted gems in the tempered light of some 
arching place of worship, by just so much would the muse of "dialogue," 
most usurping influence of all the romancingly invoked, be routed without 
ceremony, to lay her grievance at the feet of her gods. The spoils of Poynton 
were not directly articulate, and though they might have, and constantly 
did have, wondrous things to say, their message fostered about them a cer- 
tain hush of cheaper sound as a consequence of which, in fine, they would 

756 The Creative Process 

have been costly to keep up. In this manner Fleda Vetch, maintainable at 
less expense though even she, I make out, less expert in spreading chatter 
thin than the readers of romance mainly like their heroines to-day marked 
her place in my foreground at one ingratiating stroke. She planted herself 
centrally, and the stroke, as I call it, the demonstration after which she 
could n't be gainsaid, was the simple act of letting it be seen she had 

For somehow that was the way interest broke out, once the germ had 
been transferred to the sunny south window-sill of one's fonder attention 
character, the question of what my agitated friends should individually, 
and all intimately and at the core, show themselves, would unmlstakeably 
be the key to my modest drama, and would indeed alone make a drama of 
any sort possible. Yes, it is a story of cabinets and chairs and tables; they 
formed the bone of contention, but what would merely "become" of them, 
magnificently passive, seemed to represent a comparatively vulgar issue. 
The passions, the faculties, the forces their beauty would, like that of an- 
tique Helen of Troy, set in motion, was what, as a painter, one had really 
wanted of them, was the power in them that one had from the first appre- 
ciated. Emphatically, by that truth, there would have to be moral develop- 
ments dreadful as such a prospect might loom for a poor interpreter 
committed to brevity. A character is interesting as it comes out, and by the 
process and duration of that emergence; just as a procession is effective by 
the way it unrolls, turning to a mere mob if all of it passes at once. My 
little procession, I foresaw then from an early stage, would refuse to pass 
at once; though I could keep it more or less down, of course, by reducing 
it to three or four persons. Practically, in "The Spoils," the reduction is to 
four, though indeed and I clung to that as to my plea for simplicity the 
main agents, with the others all dependent, are Mrs. Gereth and Fleda. 
Fleda's ingratiating stroke, for importance, on the threshold, had been that 
she would understand; and positively, from that moment, the progress 
and march of my tale became and remained that of her understanding. 

Absolutely, with this, I committed myself to making the affirmation and 
the penetration of it my action and my "story"; once more, too, with the 
re-entertained perception that a subject so lighted, a subject residing in 
somebody's excited and concentrated feeling about something- both the 
something and the somebody being of course as important as possible has 
more beauty to give out than under any other style of pressure. One is con- 
fronted obviously thus with the question of the importances; with that in 
particular, no doubt, of the weight of intelligent consciousness, conscious- 
ness of the whole, or of something ominously like it, that one may decently 
permit a represented figure to appear to throw. Some plea for this cause, 
that of the intelligence of the moved mannikin, I have already had occasion 

Henry James 757 

to make, and can scarce hope too often to evade it. This intelligence, an 
honourable amount of it, on the part of the person to whom one most in- 
vites attention, has but to play with sufficient freedom and ease, or call it 
with the right grace, to guarantee us that quantum of the impression of 
beauty which is the most fixed of the possible advantages of our producible 
effect. It may fail, as a positive presence, on other sides and in other con- 
nexions; but more or less of the treasure is stored safe from the moment 
such a quality of inward life is distilled, or in other words from the moment 
so fine an interpretation and criticism as that of Fleda Vetch's to cite the 
present case is applied without waste to the surrounding tangle. 

It is easy to object of course "Why the deuce then Fleda Vetch, why a 
mere little flurried bundle of petticoats, why not Hamlet or Milton's Satan 
at once, if you're going in for a superior display of 'mind'?" To which I 
fear I can only reply that in pedestrian prose, and in the "short story," one 
is, for the best reasons, no less on one's guard than on the stretch; and also 
that I have ever recognised, even in the midst of the curiosity that such 
displays may quicken, the rule of an exquisite economy. The thing is to 
lodge somewhere at the heart of one's complexity an irrepressible apprecia- 
tion, but where a light lamp will carry all the flame I incline to look askance 
at a heavy. From beginning to end, in "The Spoils of Poynton," apprecia- 
tion, even to that of the very whole, lives in Fleda; which is precisely why, 
as a consequence rather grandly imposed, every one else shows for com- 
paratively stupid; the tangle, the drama, the tragedy and comedy of those 
who appreciate consisting so much of their relation with those who don't. 
From the presented reflexion of this truth my story draws, I think, a certain 
assured appearance of roundness and felicity. The "things" are radiant, 
shedding afar, with a merciless monotony, all their light, exerting their 
ravage without remorse; and Fleda almost demonically both sees and feels, 
while the others but feel without seeing. Thus we get perhaps a vivid 
enough little example, in the concrete, of the general truth, for the spectator 
of life, that the fixed constituents of almost any reproducible action are the 
fools who minister, at a particular crisis, to the intensity of the free spirit 
engaged with them. The fools are interesting by contrast, by the salience 
they acquire, and by a hundred other of their advantages; and the free 
spirit, always much tormented, and by no means always triumphant, is 
heroic, ironic, pathetic or whatever, and, as exemplified in the record of 
Fleda Vetch, for instance, "successful," only through having remained free. 

I recognise that the novelist with a weakness for that ground of appeal 
is foredoomed to a well-nigh extravagant insistence on the free spirit, seeing 
the possibility of one in every bush; I may perhaps speak of it as noteworthy 
that this very volume happens to exhibit in two other cases my disposition 
to let the interest stand or fall by the tried spontaneity and vivacity of the 

158 The Creative Process 

freedom. It is in fact for that respectable reason that I enclose "A London 
Life" and "The Chaperon" between these covers; my purpose having been 
here to class my reprintable productions as far as possible according to their 
kinds. The two tales I have just named are of the same "kind" as "The 
Spoils," to the extent of their each dealing with a human predicament in 
the light, for the charm of the thing, of the amount of "appreciation" to be 
plausibly imputed to the subject of it. They are each and truly there are 
more of such to come "stories about women," very young women, who, 
affected with a certain high lucidity, thereby become characters; in conse- 
quence of which their doings, their sufferings or whatever, take on, I as- 
sume, an importance. Laura Wing, in "A London Life," has, like Fleda 
Vetch, acuteness and intensity, reflexion and passion, has above all a con- 
tributive and participant view of her situation; just as Rose Tramore, in 
"The Chaperon," rejoices, almost to insolence, very much in the same 
cluster of attributes and advantages. They are thus of a family which shall 
have also for us, we seem forewarned, more members, and of each sex. 

As to our young woman of "The Spoils," meanwhile, I briefly come back 
to my claim for a certain definiteness of beauty in the special effect wrought 
by her aid. My problem had decently to be met that of establishing for 
the other persons the vividness of their appearance of comparative stupidity, 
that of exposing them to the full thick wash of the penumbra surrounding 
the central light, and yet keeping their motions, within it, distinct, coherent 
and "amusing." But these are exactly of course the most "amusing" things 
to do; nothing, for example, being of a higher reward artistically than the 
shade of success aimed at in such a figure as Mrs. Gereth. A character she 
too, absolutely, yet the very reverse of a free spirit. I have found myself so 
pleased with Mrs. Gereth, I confess, on resuming acquaintance with her, 
that, complete and all in equilibrium as she seems to me to stand and move 
there, I shrink from breathing upon her any breath of qualification; with- 
out which, however, I fail of my point that, thanks to the "value" repre- 
sented by Fleda, and to the position to which the elder woman is confined 
by that irradiation, the latter is at the best a "false" character, floundering as 
she does in the dusk of disproportionate passion. She is a figure, oh defi- 
nitely which is a very different matter; for you may be a figure with all 
the blinding, with all the hampering passion in life, and may have the 
grand air in what shall yet prove to the finer view (which Fleda again, e.g., 
could at any time strike off) but a perfect rage of awkwardness. Mrs. 
Gereth was, obviously, with her pride and her pluck, of an admirable fine 
paste; but she was not intelligent, was only clever, and therefore would 
have been no use to us at all as centre of our subject compared with Fleda, 
who was only intelligent, not distinctively able. The little drama confirms 
at all events excellently, I think, the contention of the old wisdom that the 

Henry James 159 

question o the personal will has more than all else to say to the verisimili- 
tude of these exhibitions. The will that rides the crisis quite most trium- 
phantly is that of the awful Mona Brigstock, who is all will, without the 
smallest leak of force into taste or tenderness or vision, into any sense of 
shades or relations or proportions. She loses no minute in that perception 
of incongruities in which half Fleda's passion is wasted and misled, and into 
which Mrs. Gereth, to her practical loss, that is by the fatal grace of a sense 
of comedy, occasionally and distinterestedly strays. Every one, every thing, 
in the story is accordingly sterile but the so thriftily constructed Mona, able 
at any moment to bear the whole of her dead weight at once on any given 
inch of a resisting surface. Fleda, obliged to neglect inches, sees and feels 
but in acres and expanses and blue perspectives; Mrs. Gereth too, in com- 
parison, while her imagination broods, drops half the stitches of the web 
she seeks to weave. 

From the preface to The Spoils of Poynton, by Henry James. By permission of the publishers: 
Charles Scribncr's Sons, New York City. 

160 The Creative Process 

Rudy ard Kipling : WORKING-TOOLS 


us NOW consider the Personal Daemon of Aristotle and others, of 
whom it has been truthfully written, though not published: 

This is the doom of the Makers their Daemon lives in their pen. 
If he be absent or sleeping, they are even as other men. 
But if he be utterly present t and they swerve not from his behest, 
The word that he gives shall continue f whether in earnest or jest. 

Most men, and some most unlikely, keep him under an alias which varies 
with their literary or scientific attainments. Mine came to me early when I 
sat bewildered among other notions, and said: 'Take this and no other.' 
I obeyed, and was rewarded. It was a tale in the little Christmas Magazine 
Quartette which we four wrote together, and it was called 'The Phantom 
Rickshaw/ Some of it was weak, much was bad and out of key; but it was 
my first serious attempt to think in another man's skin. 

After that I learned to lean upon him and recognise the sign of his ap- 
proach. If ever I held back, Ananias fashion, anything of myself (even 

Rudy or d Kipling 161 

though I had to throw it out afterwards) I paid for it by missing what I 
then knew the tale lacked. As an instance, many years later I wrote about 
a mediaeval artist, a monastery, and the premature discovery of the micro- 
scope. ('The Eye of Allah.') Again and again it went dead under my hand, 
and for the life of me I could not see why. I put it away and waited. Then 
said my Daemon and I was meditating something else at the time 'Treat 
it as an illuminated manuscript.' I had ridden off on hard black-and-white 
decoration, instead of pumicing the whole thing ivory-smooth, and loading 
it with thick colour and gilt. Again, in a South African, post-Boer War tale 
called The Captive,' which was built up round the phrase 'a first-class dress 
parade for Armageddon,' I could not get my lighting into key with the 
tone of the monologue. The background insisted too much. My Daemon 
said at last: Taint the background first once for all, as hard as a public-house 
sign, and leave it alone.' This done, the rest fell into place with the Ameri- 
can accent and outlook of the teller. 

My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, Kim, and both Puck 
books, and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. 
I know that he did not, because when those books were finished they said 
so themselves with, almost, the water-hammer click of a tap turned off. One 
of the clauses in our contract was that I should never follow up 'a success,' 
for by this sin fell Napoleon and a few others. Note here. When your Dae- 
mon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey 

In respect to verifying one's references, which is a matter in which one 
can help one's Daemon, it is curious how loath a man is to take his own 
medicine. Once, on a Boxing Day, with hard frost coming greasily out of 
the ground, my friend, Sir John Bland-Sutton, the head of the College of 
Surgeons, came down to 'Bateman's' very full of a lecture which he was to 
deliver on 'gizzards.' We were settled before the fire after lunch, when he 
volunteered that So-and-so had said that if you hold a hen to your ear, you 
can hear the click in its gizzard of the little pebbles that help its digestion. 
Interesting,' said I. 'He's an authority.' 'Oh yes, but' a long pause 'have 
you any hens about here, Kipling?' I owned that I had, two hundred yards 
down a lane, but why not accept So-and-so ? 'I can't,' said John simply, 'till 
I've tried it.' Remorselessly, he worried me into taking him to the hens, 
who lived in an open shed in front of the gardener's cottage. As we skated 
over the glairy ground, I saw an eye at the corner of the drawn-down 
Boxing-Day blind, and knew that my character for sobriety would be 
blasted all over the farms before nightfall. We caught an outraged pullet. 
John soothed her for a while (he said her pulse was a hundred and twenty- 
six), and held her to his ear. 'She clicks all right,' he announced. 'Listen.' 
I did, and there was click enough for a lecture. 'Now we can go back to the 
house,' I pleaded. 'Wait a bit. Let's catch that cock. He'll click better.' We 

162 The Creative Process 

caught him after a loud and long chase, and he clicked like a solitaire- 
board. I went home, my ears alive with parasites, so wrapped up in my 
own indignation that the fun of it escaped me. It had not been my verifica- 
tion, you see. 

But John was right. Take nothing for granted if you can check it. Even 
though that seem waste-work, and has nothing to do with the essentials of 
things, it encourages the Daemon 

For my ink I demanded the blackest, and had I been in my Father's 
house, as once I was, would have kept an ink-boy to grind me Indian-ink. 
All 'blue-blacks* were an abomination to my Daemon, and I never found a 
bottled vermilion fit to rubricate initials when one hung in the wind waiting. 

My writing-blocks were built for me to an unchanged pattern of large, 
oflf-white, blue sheets, of which I was most wasteful All this old-maiderie 
did not prevent me when abroad from buying and using blocks, and tackle, 
in any country. 

With a lead pencil I ceased to express probably because I had to use a 
pencil in reporting. I took very few notes except of names, dates, and ad- 
dresses. If a thing didn't stay in my memory, I argued it was hardly worth 
writing out. 

From Something of Myselj, by Rudyard Kipling. Copyright by Caroline Kipling [Mrs. George 
Bambridgc] . By permission of Mrs. George Bambridge and the English and Canadian publish- 
ers; Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London; The Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd., Toronto, and 
the United States publishers: Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. 

Rudyard Kipling 163 

John Hyde Preston : A CONVERSATION WITH 


OHE TALKS freely and volubly and sometimes obscurely, as if she had some- 
thing there that she was very sure of and yet could not touch it. She has that 
air of having seen in flashes something which she does not know the shape 
of, and can talk about, not out of the flashes but out of the spaces between 
when she has waited. 

I do not mean that there is in her conversation any trace of that curious 
obscurity which dims so much of her prose, for me at least and I was frank 
(without wanting to be) in telling her that I could only guess sometimes 
at the written words. She seems peacefully resigned to the attacks that have 
been made upon her all her life and she has that air, so rare in writers, of 
living outside of both fame and criticism. 


. . /You will write/ she said, 'if you will write without thinking of the re- 
sult in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, 
which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, 

164 The Creative Process 

not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting. Yes, before in a thought, 
but not in careful thinking. It will come if it is there and if you will let it 
come, and if you have anything you will get a sudden creative recognition. 
You won't know how it was, even what it is, but it will be creation if it 
came out of the pen and out of you and not out of an architectural drawing 
of the thing you are doing. Technique is not so much a thing of form or 
style as the way that form or style came and how it can come again. Freeze 
your fountain and you will always have the frozen water shooting into the 
air and falling and it will be there to see oh, no doubt about that but 
there will be no more coming. I can tell how important it is to have that 
creative recognition. You cannot go into the womb to form the child; it is 
there and makes itself and comes forth whole and there it is and you have 
made it and have felt it, but it has come itself and that is creative recog- 
nition. Of course you have a little more control over your writing than that; 
you have to know what you want to get; but when you know that, let it take 
you and if it seems to take you off the track don't hold back, because that is 
perhaps where instinctively you want to be and if you hold back and try 
to be always where you have been before, you will go dry. 

'You think you have used up all the air where you are, Preston; you said 
that you had used it up where you live, but that is not true, for if it were it 
would mean that you had given up all hope of change. I think writers 
should change their scenes; but the very fact that you do not know where 
you would go if you could means that you would take nothing truly to the 
place where you went and so there would be nothing there until you had 
found it, and when you did find it, it would be something you had brought 
and thought you had left behind. And that would be creative recognition, 
too, because it would have all to do with you and nothing really to do with 
the place.' 

But what if, when you tried to write, you felt stopped, suffocated, and no 
words came and if they came at all they were wooden and without mean- 
ing? What if you had the feeling you could never write another word? 

Treston, the way to resume is to resume/ she said laughing. c lt is the only 
way. To resume. If you feel this book deeply it will come as deep as your 
feeling is when it is running truest and the book will never be truer or 
deeper than your feeling. But you do not yet know anything about your 
feeling because, though you may think it is all there, all crystallized, you 
have not let it run. So how can you know what it will be ? What will be best 
in it is what you really do not know now. If you knew it all it would not 
be creation but dictation. No book is a book until it is done, and you cannot 
say that you are writing a book while you are just writing on sheets of paper 
and all that is in you has not yet come out. And a book let it go on end- 
lessly is not the whole man. There is no such thing as a one-book author. 

John Hyde Preston 16$ 

I remember a young man in Paris just after the war you have never heard 
of this young man and we all liked his first book very much and he liked 
it too, and one day he said to me, "This book will make literary history," 
and I told him : "It will make some part of literary history, perhaps, but only 
if you go on making a new part every day and grow with the history you 
are making until you become a part of it yourself.** But this young man 
never wrote another book and now he sits in Paris and searches sadly for 
the mention of his name in indexes.' 


Her secretary came in and out of the room, putting things away in a trunk 
that stood open at the end of the couch (they sail to-morrow noon), ex- 
changing a few words in a voice that was new for its softness; and suddenly 
out of something that we were saying about America came the discovery 
that both she and I were from Seattle and that she had known my father 
when he was a young man and before he went into the Klondike. And 
then as her secretary spoke a strange deep kinship of land seemed to take 
possession of the other woman, who had been born in Pennsylvania and 
raised in Oakland, California, and had been in far-off Paris for thirty years 
without sight of her native earth, for she began to speak with deep-felt 
fervor of her American experience in the past six months. 

Treston,' she said, 'you were saying that you had torn up roots ten years 
ago and tried to plant them again in New England where there was none 
of your blood, and that now you have a feeling of being without roots. 
Something like that happened to me, too. I think I must have had a feeling 
that it had happened or I should not have come back. I went to California. 
I saw it and felt it and had a tenderness and a horror too. Roots are so small 
and dry when you have them and they are exposed to you. You have seen 
them on a plant and sometimes they seem to deny the plant if it is vigorous.' 
She paused when I lit a cigarette; I could not make out whether she had 
been alarmed at my smoking so much or whether she was instinctively 
silent in the face of any physical activity on the part of her listener. 'Well/ 
she went on, 'we're not like that really. Our roots can be anywhere and we 
can survive, because if you think about it, we take our roots with us. I 
always knew that a little and now I know it wholly. I know because you 
can go back to where they are and they can be less real to you than they 
were three thousand, six thousand miles away. Don't worry about your 
roots so long as you worry about them. The essential thing is to have the 
feeling that they exist, that they are somewhere. They will take care of 
themselves, and they will take care of you too, though you may never know 
how it has happened. To think only of going back for them is to confess that 
the plant is dying.' 

166 The Creative Process 

icSj i ^aiu, UUL uicrc is bumeuimg rnurc. mere is me nungcr EOF me 
land, for the speech.' 

*I know,* she said almost sadly. 'America is wonderful!' Then without 
any warning she declared : *I feel now that it is my business here. After all, it 
is my business, this America!' And she laughed with a marvelous hearti- 
ness, a real lust. When I asked her if she would come back she looked up 
slyly and was smiling still and she opened and shut her eyes with the same 
zestf ul expression with which a man smacks his lips. 

'Well,' I said, 'you have had a long time to look. What is it that happens 
to American writers?' 

'What is it you notice?' 

'It is obvious. They look gigantic at first. Then they get to be thirty-five or 
forty and the juices dry up and there they are. Something goes out of them 
and they begin to repeat according to formula. Or else they grow silent 

'The trouble is a simple one,' she said. 'They become writers. They cease 
being creative men and soon they find that they are novelists or critics or 
poets or biographers, and they are encouraged to be one of those things 
because they have been very good in one performance or two or three, but 
that is silly. When a man says, "I am a novelist," he is simply a literary 
shoemaker. If Mr. Robert Frost is at all good as a poet, it is because he is 
a farmer really in his mind a farmer, I mean. And there is another whom 
you young men are doing your best and very really your worst to forget, 
and he is the editor of a small-town newspaper and his name is Sherwood 
Anderson. Now Sherwood* he was the only man she called by his first 
name, and then affectionately 'Sherwood is really and truly great because 
he truly does not care what he is and has not thought what he is except a 
man, a man who can go away and be small in the world's eyes and yet 
perhaps be one of the very few Americans who have achieved that perfect 
freshness of creation and passion, as simple as rain falling on a page, and 
rain that fell from him and was there miraculously and was all his, You 
see, he had that creative recognition, that wonderful ability to have it all on 
paper before he saw it and then to be strengthened by what he saw so that 
he could always go deep for more and not know that he was going. Scott 
Fitzgerald, you know, had it for a little while, but not any more. He is an 
American Novelist/ 

'What about Hemingway?' I could not resist asking her that question. 
Her name and the name of Ernest Hemingway are almost inseparable 
when one thinks of the Paris after the war, of the expatriates who gathered 
around her there as a sibyL 'He was good until after A Farewell to Arms! 

'No,' she said, 'he was not really good after 1925. In his early short stories 
he had what I have been trying to describe to you. Then Hemingway did 

John Hyde Preston i6j 

not lose it; he threw it away. I told him then: "Hemingway, you have a 
small income; you will not starve; you can work without worry and you can 
grow and keep this thing and it will grow with you." But he did not wish 
to grow that way; he wished to grow violently. Now, Preston, here is a 
curious thing. Hemingway is not an American Novelist. He has not sold 
himself and he has not settled into any literary mould. Maybe his own 
mould, but that's not only literary. When I first met Hemingway he had a 
truly sensitive capacity for emotion, and that was the stuff of the first stories; 
but he was shy of himself and he began to develop, as a shield, a big Kansas 
City4x>y brutality about it, and so he was "tough" because he was really 
sensitive and ashamed that he was. Then it happened. I saw it happening 
and tried to save what was fine there, but it was too late. He went the way 
so many other Americans have gone before, the way they are still going. 
He became obsessed by sex and violent death/ 

She held up a stubby forefinger. 'Now you will mistake me. Sex and death 
are the springs of the most valid of human emotions. But they are not all; 
they are not even all emotion. But for Hemingway everything became mul- 
tiplied by and subtracted from sex and death. But I knew at the start and 
I know better now that it wasn't just to find out what these things were; it 
was the disguise for the thing that was really gentle and fine in him, and 
then his agonizing shyness escaped into brutality. No, now wait not real 
brutality, because the truly brutal man wants something more than bull- 
fighting and deep-sea fishing and elephant killing or whatever it is now, and 
perhaps if Hemingway were truly brutal he could make a real literature out 
of those things; but he is not, and I doubt if he will ever again write truly 
about anything. He is skillful, yes, but that is the writer; the other half is 
the man.' 

I asked her: 'Do you really think American writers are obsessed by sex? 
And if they are, isn't it legitimate?' 

'It is legitimate, of course. Literature creative literature unconcerned 
with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of some- 
thing of which the other parts are not sex at all. No, Preston, it is really a 
matter of tone. You can tell, if you can tell anything, by the way a man 
talks about sex whether he is impotent or not, and if he talks about nothing 
else you can be quite sure that he is impotent physically and as an artist too. 

'One thing which I have tried to tell Americans,' she went on, *is that 
there can be no truly great creation without passion, but I'm not sure that 
I have been able to tell them at all. If they have not understood it is because 
they have had to think of sex first, and they can think of sex as passion more 
easily than they can think of passion as the whole force of man. Always they 
try to label it, and that is a mistake. What do I mean ? I will tell you. I think 
of Byron. Now Byron had passion. It had nothing to do with his women. 

168 The Creative Process 

It was a quality of Byron's mind and everything he wrote came out of it, 
and perhaps that is why his work is so uneven, because a man's passion is 
uneven if it is real; and sometimes, if he can write it, it is only passion and 
has no meaning outside of itself. Swinburne wrote all his life about passion, 
but you can read all of him and you will not know what passions he had. 
I am not sure that it is necessary to know or that Swinburne would have 
been better if he had known. A man's passion can be wonderful when it has 
an object which may be a woman or an idea or wrath at an injustice, but 
after it happens, as it usually does, that the object is lost or won after a time, 
the passion does not survive it. It survives only if it was there before, only if 
the woman or the idea or the wrath was an incident in the passion and not 
the cause of it and that is what makes the writer. 

'Often the men who really have it are not able to recognize it in themselves 
because they do not know what it is to feel differently or not to feel at all. 
And it won't answer to its name. Probably Goethe thought that Young 
Werther was a more passionate book than Wilhelm Meister, but in Werther 
he was only describing passion and in Wilhelrn Meister he was transferring 
it. And I don't think he knew what he had done. He did not have to. 
Emerson might have been surprised if he had been told that he was passion- 
ate. But Emerson really had passion; he wrote it; but he could not have 
written about it because he did not know about it. Now Hemingway knows 
all about it and can sometimes write very surely about it, but he hasn't any 
at all. Not really any. He merely has passions. And Faulkner and Caldwell 
and all that I have read in America and before I came. They are good 
craftsmen and they are honest men, but they do not have it.' 


I have never heard talk come more naturally and casually. It had none of 
the tautness or deadly care that is in the speech of most American intellec- 
tuals when they talk from the mind out. If sometime you will listen to 
workingmen talking when they are concentrated upon the physical job at 
hand, and one of them will go on without cease while he is sawing and 
measuring and nailing, not always audible, but keeping on in an easy 
rhythm and almost without awareness of words then you will get some 
idea of her conversation. 

'Well, I think Thomas Wolfe has it,* I said. C I think he really has it more 
than any man I know in America/ I had just read Of Time and the River 
and had been deeply moved. 

'I read his first book,' she said, misnaming it. 'And I looked for it, but I did 
not find it. Wolfe is a deluge and you are flooded by him, but if you want to 
read carefully, Preston, you must learn to know how you are flooded. In a 

John Hyde Preston 769 

review I read on the train Wolfe was many things and among them he was 
Niagara. Now that is not so silly as it sounds. Niagara has power and it has 
form and it is beautiful for thirty seconds, but the water at the bottom that 
has been Niagara is no better and no different from the water at the top 
that will be Niagara. Something wonderful and terrible has happened to it, 
but it is the same water and nothing at all would have happened if it had not 
been for an aberration in one of nature's forms. The river is the water's true 
form and it is a very satisfactory form for the water and Niagara is altogether 
wrong. Wolfe's books are the water at the bottom and they foam magnifi- 
cently because they have come the wrong way, but they are no better than 
when they started. Niagara exists because the true form ran out and the 
water could find no other way. But the creative artist should be more adroit. 1 

'You mean that you think the novel form has run out?' 

'Truly yes. And when a form is dead it always happens that everything 
that is written in it is really formless. And you know it is dead when it has 
crystallized and everything that goes into it must be made a certain way. 
What is bad In Wolfe is made that way and what is good is made very 
differently and so if you take what is good, he really has not written a 
novel at all.' 

Tes but what difference does it make?' I asked her. 'It was something 
that was very true for me, and perhaps I didn't care whether it was a novel 
or not. 5 

'Preston,* she said, 'you must try to understand me. I was not impatient 
because it was not a novel but because Wolfe did not see what it might have 
been and if he really and truly had the passion you say he has, he would 
have seen because he would have really and truly felt it, and it would have 
taken its own form, and with his wonderful energy it would not have 
defeated him.' 

'What has passion got to do with choosing an art form?' 

'Everything. There is nothing else that determines form. What Wolfe is 
writing is his autobiography, but he has chosen to tell it as a story and an 
autobiography is never a story because life does not take place in events. 
What he has really done is to release himself, and so he has only told the 
truth of his release and not the truth of discovery. And that is why he means 
so much to you young men, because it is your release too. And perhaps 
because it is so long and unselective it is better for you, for if it stays with 
you, you will give it your own form and, if you have any passion, that too, 
and then perhaps you will be able to make the discovery he did not make. 
But you will not read it again because you will not need it again. And if a 
book has been a very true book for you ? you will always need it again.' 

Her secretary came into the room, looked at her watch, and said: 'You 
have twenty-five minutes for your walk. You must be back at ten minutes to 

770 The Creative Process 

one.* I arose, suddenly conscious that, having asked for fifteen minutes out 
of her last day in America, I had stayed over an hour utterly unaware of 
time. I made to go. 

'No,' she said abruptly, 'there is still more to say. Walk with me because 
I want to say it.' We went out of the hotel. 'Walk on my left,' she said, 'be- 
cause my right ear is broken.' She walked very sturdily, almost rapidly, and 
shouted above the traffic. 

'There are two particular things I want to tell you because I have thought 
about them in America. I have thought about them for many years, but 
particularly in America I have seen them in a new light. So much bas hap- 
pened since I left. Americans are really beginning to use their heads more 
now than at any time since the Civil War. They used them then because 
they had to and thinking was in the air, and they have to use them now or be 
destroyed. When you write the Civil War you must think of it in terms of 
then and now and not the time between. Well, Americans have not gone far 
yet, perhaps, but they have started thinking again and there are heads here 
and something is ahead. It has no real shape, but I feel it and I do not feel 
it so much abroad and that is why my business is here. You see, there is 
something for writers that there was not before. You are too close to it and 
you only vaguely sense it. That is why you let your economic problem bother 
you. If you see and feel you will know what your work is, and if you do it 
well the economic problem takes care of itself. Don't think so much about 
your wife and child being dependent upon your work. Try to think of your 
work being dependent upon your wife and child, for it will be if it really 
comes from you, and if it doesn't come from you the you that has the wife 
and child and this Fifth Avenue and these people then it is no use anyway 
and your economic problem will have nothing to do with writing because 
you will not be a writer at all. I find you young writers worrying about 
losing your integrity and it is well that you should, but a man who really 
loses his integrity does not know that it is gone, and nobody can wrest it 
from you if you really have it. An ideal is good only if it moves you forward 
and can make you produce, Preston, but it is no good if you prefer to produce 
nothing rather than write sometimes for money alone, because the ideal 
defeats itself when the economic problem you have been talking about de- 
feats you' 

We were crossing streets and the crowds were looking curiously at this 
bronze-faced woman whose picture had been so often in the papers, but 
she was unaware of them, it seemed to me, but extraordinarily aware of the 
movement around her and especially of taxicabs. After all, I reflected, she 
had lived in Paris. 

'The diing for the serious writer to remember,' she said, 'is that he is 
writing seriously aad is not a salesman. If the writer and the salesman are 

John Hyde Preston 171 

born in the same man it is lucky for both of them, but i they are not, one is 
sure to kill the other when you force them together. And there is one thing 

We turned off Madison Avenue and headed back to the hotel. 

*A very important thing and I know it because I have seen it kill so many 
writers is not to make up your mind that you are any one thing. Look at 
your own case. You have written, first a biography, then a history of the 
American Revolution, and third a modern novel. But how absurd it would 
be if you should make up your mind that you are a Biographer, a Historian, 
or a Novelist! 5 She pronounced the words in tremendous capitals. 'The truth 
is probably that all those forms are dead because they have become forms, 
and you must have felt that or you would not have moved on from one to 
another. Well, you will go on and you will work in them, and sometime, if 
your work has any meaning and I am not sure that anything but a lifework 
has meaning, then you may discover a new form. Somebody has said that I 
myself am striving for a fourth dimension in literature. I am striving for 
nothing of the sort and I am not striving at all but only gradually growing 
and becoming steadily more aware of the ways things can be felt and known 
in words, and perhaps if I feel them and know them myself in the new 
ways it is enough, and if I know fully enough there will be a note of sureness 
and confidence that will make others know too. 

'And when one has discovered and evolved a new form, it is not the form 
but the fact that you are the -form that is important. That is why Boswell is 
the greatest biographer that ever lived, because he was no slavish Eckermann 
with the perfect faithfulness of notes which are not faithful at all but 
because he put into Johnson's mouth words that Johnson probably never 
uttered, and yet you know when you read it that that is what Johnson would 
have said under such and such a circumstance and you know all that be- 
cause Boswell discovered Johnson's real form which Johnson never knew. 
The great thing is not ever to think about form but let it come. Does that 
sound strange from me? They have accused me of thinking of nothing else. 
Do you see the real joke ? It is the critics who have really thought about form 
always and I have thought about writing!' 

Gertrude Stein laughed enormously and went into the hotel with the 

From "A Conversation," by John Hyde Preston. By permission of the author and the publish- 
ers: The Atlantic Monthly, Boston. 

772 The Creative Process 

Dorothy Canfidd : HOW FLINT AND FIRE 



FEEL very dubious about the wisdom or usefulness of publishing the fol- 
lowing statement of how one of my stories came into existence. This is not 
on account of the obvious danger of seeming to have illusions about the 
value of my work, as though I imagined one of my stories was inherently 
worth in itself a careful public analysis of its growth; the chance, remote as 
it might be, of usefulness to students, would outweigh this personal con- 
sideration. What is more important is the danger that some student may 
take the explanation as a recipe or rule for the construction of other stories, 
and I totally disbelieve in such rules or recipes. 

As a rule, when a story is finished, and certainly always by the time it is 
published, I have no recollection of the various phases of its development. 
In the case of "Flint and Fire," an old friend chanced to ask me, shortly 
after the tale was completed, to write out for his English classes, the stages 
of the construction of a short story. I set them down, hastily, formlessly, but 
just as they happened, and this gives me a record which I could not repro- 
duce for any other story I ever wrote. These notes are here published on the 

Dorothy Canfield 773 

chance that such a truthful record of the growth of one short story, may 
have some general suggestiveness for students. 

No two of my stories are ever constructed in the same way, but broadly 
viewed they all have exactly the same genesis, and I confess I cannot conceive 
of any creative fiction written from any other beginning . . . that of a gen- 
erally intensified emotional sensibility, such as every human being ex- 
periences with more or less frequency. Everybody knows such occasional 
hours or days of freshened emotional responses when events that usually 
pass aliBOSt unnoticed, suddenly move you deeply, when a sunset lifts you 
to exaltation, when a squeaking door throws you into a fit of exasperation, 
when a clear look of trust in a child's eyes moves you to tears, or an injustice 
reported in the newspapers to flaming indignation, a good action to a sunny 
warm love of human nature, a discovered meanness in yourself or another, 
to despair. 

I have no idea whence this tide comes, or where it goes, but when it begins 
to rise in my heart, I know that a story is hovering in the offing. It does not 
always come safely to port. The daily routine of ordinary life kills off many 
a vagrant emotion. Or if daily humdrum occupation does not stifle it, per- 
haps this saturated solution of feeling does not happen to crystallize about 
any concrete fact, episode, word or phrase. In my own case, it is far more 
likely to seize on some slight trifle, the shade of expression on somebody's 
face, or the tone of somebody's voice, than to accept a more complete, ready- 
made episode. Especially this emotion refuses to crystallize about, or to have 
anything to do with those narrations of our actual life, offered by friends 
who are sure that such-and-such a happening is so strange or interesting that 
"it ought to go in a story." 

The beginning of a story is then for me in more than usual sensitiveness 
to emotion. If this encounters the right focus (and heaven only knows why 
it is the "right" one) I get simultaneously a strong thrill of intense feeling, 
and an intense desire to pass it on to other people. This emotion may be any 
one of the infinitely varied ones which life affords, laughter, sorrow, indigna- 
tion, gayety, admiration, scorn, pleasure. I recognize it for the "right" one 
when it brings with it an irresistible impulse to try to make other people feel 
it. And I know that when it comes, the story is begun. At this point, the 
story begins to be more or less under my conscious control, and it is here that 
the work of construction begins* 

"Flint and Fire" thus hovered vaguely in a shimmer of general emotional 
tensity, and thus abruptly crystallized itself about a chance phrase and the 
cadence of the voice which pronounced it. For several days I had been al- 
most painfully alive to the beauty of an especially lovely spring, always so 
lovely after the long winter in the mountains. One evening, going on a very 
prosaic errand to a farm-house of our region, I walked along a narrow path 

IJ4 The Creative Process 

through dark pines, beside a brook swollen with melting snow, and found 
the old man I came to see, sitting silent and alone before his blackened small 
old house. I did my errand, and then not to offend against our country 
standards of sociability, sat for half an hour beside him. 

The old man had been for some years desperately unhappy about a tragic 
and permanent element in his life. I had known this, every one knew it. But 
that evening, played upon as I had been by the stars, the darkness of the 
pines and the shouting voice of the brook, I suddenly stopped merely know- 
ing it, and felt it. It seemed to me that his misery emanated from him like a 
soundless wail of anguish. We talked very little, odds and ends of neighbor- 
hood gossip, until the old man, shifting his position, drew a long breath and 
said, "Seems to me I never heard the brook sound so loud as it has this 
spring." There came instantly to my mind the recollection that his grand- 
father had drowned himself in that brook, and I sat silent, shaken by that 
thought and by the sound of his voice. I have no words to attempt to repro- 
duce his voice, or to try to make you feel as I did, hot and cold with the awe 
of that glimpse into a naked human heart. I felt my own heart contract 
dreadfully with helpless sympathy . . . and, I hope this is not as ugly as it 
sounds, I knew at the same instant that I would try to get that pang of emo- 
tion into a story and make other people feel it. 

That is all. That particular phase of the construction of the story came and 
went between two heart-beats. 

I came home by the same path through the same pines along the same 
brook, sinfully blind and deaf to the beauty that had so moved me an hour 
ago, I was too busy now to notice anything outside the rapid activity going 
on inside my head. My mind was working with a swiftness and a coolness 
which I am somewhat ashamed to mention, and my emotions were calmed, 
relaxed, let down from the tension of the last few days and the last few 
moments. They had found their way out to an attempt at self-expression and 
were at rest. I realize that this is not at all estimable. The old man was just as 
unhappy as he had been when I had felt my heart breaking with sympathy 
for him, but now he seemed very far away. 

I was snatching up one possibility after another, considering it for a 
moment, casting it away and pouncing on another. First of all, the story 
must be made as remote as possible from resembling the old man or his 
trouble, lest he or any one in the world might think he was intended, and 
be wounded. 

What is the opposite pole from an old man's tragedy? A lover's tragedy, 
of course. Yes, it must be separated lovers, young and passionate and beau- 
tiful, because they would fit in with the back-ground of spring, and swollen 
shouting starlit brooks, and the yearly resurrection which was so closely 
connected with that ache of emotion that they were a part of it. 

Dorothy Canfield 175 

Should the separation come from the weakness or faithlessness of one of 
the lovers ? No, ah no, I wanted it without ugliness, pure beautif ul sorrow, to 
fit that dark shadow of the pines ... the lovers must be separated by outside 

What outside forces? Lack of money? Family opposition? Both, perhaps. 
I knew plenty of cases of both in the life of our valley. 

By this time I had come again to our own house and was swallowed in 
the usual thousand home-activities. But underneath all that, quite steadily 
my mind continued to work on the story as a wasp in a barn keeps on silently 
plastering up the cells of his nest in the midst of the noisy activities of farm- 
life. I said to one of the children, "Yes, dear, wasn't it fun!" and to myself, 
"To be typical of our tradition-ridden valley-people, the opposition ought 
to come from the dead hand of the past." I asked a caller, "One lump or 
two?" and thought as I poured the tea, "And if the character of that opposi- 
tion could be made to indicate a fierce capacity for passionate feeling in the 
older generation, that would make it doubly useful in the story, not only as 
part of the machinery of the plot, but as indicating an inheritance of passion- 
ate feeling in the younger generation, with whom the story is concerned." 
I dozed off at night, and woke to find myself saying, "It could come from 
the jealousy of two sisters, now old women." 

But that meant that under ordinary circumstances the lovers would have 
been first cousins, and this might cause a subconscious wavering of attention 
on the part of some readers . . . just as well to get that stone out of the path! 
I darned a sock and thought out the relationship in the story, and was re- 
warded with a revelation of the character of the sick old woman, TSTiram's 

Upon this, came one of those veering lists of the ballast aboard which are 
so disconcerting to the author. The story got out of hand. The old woman 
silent, indomitable, fed and deeply satisfied for all of her hard and grinding 
life by her love for the husband whom she had taken from her sister, she 
stepped to the front of my stage, and from that moment on, dominated the 
action. I did not expect this, nor desire it, and I was very much afraid that 
the result would be a perilously divided interest which would spoil the unity 
of impression of the story. It now occurs to me that this unexpected shifting 
of values may have been the emergence of the element of tragic old age 
which had been the start of the story and which I had conscientiously tried 
to smother out of sight. At any rate, there she was, more touching, pathetic, 
striking, to my eyes with her life-time proof of the reality of her passion, 
than my untried young lovers who up to that time had seemed to me, in the 
full fatuous flush of invention as I was, as ill-starred, innocent and touching 
lovers as anybody had ever seen. 

ij6 The Creative Process 

Alarmed about this double interest I went on with the weaving back and 
forth of the elements of the plot which now involved the attempt to arouse 
in the reader's heart as in mine a sympathy for the bed-ridden old Mrs. 
Purdon and a comprehension of her sacrifice. 

My daily routine continued as usual, gardening, telling stories, music, 
sewing, dusting, motoring, callers . . . one of them, a self-consciously sophis- 
ticated Europeanized American, not having of course any idea of what was 
filling my inner life, rubbed me frightfully the wrong way by making a 
slighting condescending allusion to what he called the mean, emotional 
poverty of our inarticulate mountain people. I flew into a silent rage at him, 
though scorning to discuss with him a matter I felt him incapable of under- 
standing, and the character of Cousin Horace went into the story. He was 
for the first day or two, a very poor cheap element, quite unreal, unrealized, 
a mere man of straw to be knocked over by the personages of the tale. Then. 
I took myself to task, told myself that I was spoiling a story merely to 
revenge myself on a man I cared nothing about, and that I must either take 
Cousin Horace out or make him human. One day, working in the garden, 
I laughed out suddenly, delighted with the whimsical idea of making him, 
almost in spite of himself, the deus ex machina of my little drama, quite soft 
and sympathetic under his shell of would-be worldly disillusion, as occa- 
sionally happens to elderly bachelors. 

At this point the character of 'Niram's long-dead father came to life and 
tried to push his way into the story, a delightful, gentle, upright man, with 
charm and a sense of humor, such as none of the rest of my stark characters 
possessed. I felt that he was necessary to explain the fierceness of the sisters' 
rivalry for him. I planned one or two ways to get him in, in retrospect and 
liked one of the scenes better than anything that finally was left in the story. 
Finally, very heavy-hearted, I put him out of the story, for the merely 
material reason that there was no room for him. As usual with my story- 
making, this plot was sprouting out in a dozen places, expanding, opening 
up, till I perceived that I had enough material for a novel. For a day or so I 
hung undecided. Would it perhaps be better to make it a novel and really 
tell about those characters all I knew and guessed? But again a consideration 
that has nothing to do with artistic form, settled the matter. I saw no earthly 
possibility of getting time enough to write a novel. So I left Mr. Purdon out, 
and began to think of ways to compress my material, to make one detail do 
double work so that space might be saved. 

One detail of the mechanism remained to be arranged, and this ended by 
deciding the whole form of the story, and the first-person character of the 
recital. This was the question of just how it would have been materially 
possible for the bed-ridden old woman to break down the life-long barrier 
between her and her sister, and how she could have reached her effectively 

Dorothy Canfield 177 

and forced her hand. I could see no way to manage this except by somehow 
transporting her bodily to the sister's house, so that she could not be put out 
on the road without public scandal. This transportation must be managed 
by some character not in the main action, as none of the persons involved 
would have been willing to help her to this. It looked like putting in another 
character, just for that purpose, and of course he could not be put in without 
taking the time to make him plausible, human, understandable . . . and I had 
just left out that charming widower for sheer lack of space. Well, why not 
make it a first person story, and have the narrator be the one who takes 
Mrs. Purdon to her sister's? The narrator of the story never needs to be 
explained, always seems sufficiently living and real by virtue of the supremely 
human act of so often saying "I." 

Now the materials were ready, the characters fully alive in my mind and 
entirely visualized, even to the smoothly braided hair of Ev'leen Ann, the 
patch-work quilt of the old woman out-of-doors, and the rustic wedding at 
the end, all details which had recently chanced to draw my attention; I 
heard everything through the song of the swollen brook, one of the main 
characters in the story (although by this time in actual fact, June and lower 
water had come and the brook slid quiet and gleaming, between placid 
green banks), and I often found myself smiling foolishly in pleasure over 
the buggy going down the hill, freighted so richly with hearty human joy. 

The story was now ready to write. 

I drew a long breath of mingled anticipation and apprehension, somewhat 
as you do when you stand, breathing quickly, balanced on your skis, at the 
top of a long white slope you are not sure you are clever enough to manage. 
Sitting down at my desk one morning, I "pushed off" and with a tingle of 
not altogether pleasurable excitement and alarm, felt myself "going." I 
"went" almost as precipitately as skis go down a long white slope, scribbling 
as rapidly as my pencil could go, indicating whole words with a dash and a 
jiggle, filling page after page with scrawls ... it seemed to me that I had been 
at work perhaps half an hour, when someone was calling me impatiently to 
lunch. I had been writing four hours without stopping. My cheeks were 
flaming, my feet were cold, my lips parched. It was high time someone 
called me to lunch. 

The next morning, back at the desk, I looked over what I had written, 
conquered the usual sick qualms of discouragement at finding it so infinitely 
flat and insipid compared to what I had wished to make it, and with a very 
clear idea of what remained to be done, plodded ahead doggedly, and 
finished the first draught before noon. It was almost twice too long. 

After this came a period of steady deskwork, every morning, of re-writing, 
compression, more compression, and the more or less mechanical work of 
technical revision, what a member of my family calls "cutting 'out the 

ij8 The Creative Process 

'whiches.' " The first thing to do each morning was to read a part of it over 
aloud, sentence by sentence, to try to catch clumsy, ungraceful phrases, over- 
weights at one end or the other, "ringing" them as you ring a dubious coin, 
clipping off too-trailing relative clauses, "listening" hard. This work depends 
on what is known in music as "ear," and in my case it cannot be kept up 
long at a time, because I find my attention flagging. When I begin to suspect 
that my ear is dulling, I turn to other varieties of revision, of which there 
are plenty to keep anybody busy; for instance revision to explain facts; in 
this category is the sentence just after the narrator suspects Ev'leen Ann has 
gone down to the brook, "my ears ringing with all the frightening tales of 
the morbid vein of violence which runs through the characters of our reticent 

It seemed too on re-reading the story for the tenth or eleventh time, that 
for readers who do not know our valley people, the girPs attempt at suicide 
might seem improbable. Some reference ought to be brought in, giving the 
facts that their sorrow and despair is terrible in proportion to the nervous 
strain of their tradition of repression, and that suicide is by no means un- 
known. I tried bringing that fact in, as part of the conversation with Cousin 
Horace, but it never fused with the rest there, "stayed on top of the page" 
as bad sentences will do, never sank in, and always made the disagreeable 
impression on me that a false intonation in an actor's voice does. So it came 
out from there. I tried putting it in Ev'leen Ann's mouth, in a carefully ar- 
ranged form, but it was so shockingly out of character there, that it was 
snatched out at once. There I hung over the manuscript with that necessary 
fact in my hand and no place to lay it down. Finally I perceived a possible 
opening for it, where it now is in the story, and squeezing it in there dis- 
contentedly left it, for I still think it only inoffensively and not well placed. 

Then there is the traditional, obvious revision for suggestiveness, such as 
the recurrent mention of the mountain brook at the beginning of each of the 
first scenes; revision for ordinary sense, in the first draught I had honey- 
suckle among the scents on the darkened porch, whereas honeysuckle does 
not bloom in Vermont till late June; revision for movement to get the nar- 
rator rapidly from her bed to the brook; for sound, sense proportion, even 
grammar . . . and always interwoven with these mechanical revisions recur- 
rent intense visualizations of the scenes. This is the mental trick which can 
be learned, I think, by practice and effort. Personally, although I never used 
as material any events in my own intimate life, I can write nothing if I 
cannot achieve these very definite, very complete visualizations of the scenes ; 
which means that I can write nothing at all about places, people or phases of 
life which I do not intimately know, down to the last detail. If my life de- 
pended on it, it does not seem to me I could possibly write a story about 
Siberian hunters or East-side factory hands without having lived long 

Dorothy Canfield 179 

among them. Now the story was what one calls "finished," and I made a 
clear copy, picking my way with difficulty among the alterations, the 
scratched-out passages, and the cued-in paragraphs, the inserted pages, the 
rearranged phrases. As I typed, the interest and pleasure in the story lasted 
just through that process. It still seemed pretty good to me, the wedding still 
touched me, the whimsical ending still amused me. 

But on taking up the legible typed copy and beginning to glance rapidly 
over it, I felt fall over me the black shadow of that intolerable reaction which 
is enough to make any author abjure his calling for ever. By the time I had 
reached the end, the full misery was there, the heart-sick, helpless conscious- 
ness of failure. What! I had had the presumption to try to translate into 
words, and make others feel a thrill of sacred living human feeling, that 
should not be touched save by worthy hands. And what had I produced? A 
trivial, paltry, complicated tale, with certain cheaply ingenious devices in it. 
I heard again the incommunicable note of profound emotion in the old 
man's voice, suffered again with his sufferings; and those little black marks 
on white paper lay dead, dead in my hands. What horrible people second- 
rate authors were! They ought to be prohibited by law from sending out 
their caricatures of life. I would never write again. All that effort, enough 
to have achieved a master-piece it seemed at the time . . . and this, this, for 

From the subconscious depths of long experience came up the cynical, 
slightly contemptuous consolation, "You know this never lasts. You always 
throw this same fit, and get over it." 

So, suffering from really acute humiliation and unhappiness, I went out 
hastily to weed a flower-bed. 

And sure enough, the next morning, after a long night's sleep, I felt quite 
rested, calm, and blessedly matter-of-fact. "Flint and Fire" seemed already 
very far away and vague, and the question of whether it was good or bad, 
not very important or interesting, like the chart of your temperature in a 
fever now gone by. 

From "How Tlint and Fire' Started and Grew," by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, in Americans All, 
edited by Benjamin A. Heydrick. By permission of the publishers: Harcourt, Brace and Com- 
pany, Inc., New York City. 

180 The Creative Process 

Llewelyn Powys : LETTER TO 


LY DEAR Mr. Taylor : 

It is difficult to analyze the airy substance we call style. At its best it seems 
to escape all definitions. It is as evasive as life. It would be as hard to predict 
the dancing flight of a flock of finches, or the subterranean movements of a 
single mole, as to explain a great writer's peculiar gift. The reason for this 
seems to me to lie in the fact that style is the ultimate expression of the 
author's unique spiritual consciousness. This spiritual consciousness has 
been arrived at through various influences. Ancestry has bequeathed to it a 
certain fundamental disposition, environment has thickened this congenital 
inclination, and the chance temperament of each individual has flashed it 
into life out of nowhere. 

It has been suggested that style consists in saying what has to be said as 
exactly as possible. This, however, is a different matter altogether. True 
style has nothing to do with imparting information lucidly. It is not this. It 
is the scent of the herb, the mist over the blackberry hedge, the soul of the 
man. It is begotten of the senses, it is the quintesessential feeling, the quin- 

Llewelyn Powys 181 

tcssential thought, of those fleet immediate messengers finding unity at last 
in the person of the being they serve. All the nights that a man has experi- 
enced, clouding in so mysteriously over the native earth; all the dawns that 
he has witnessed with wakeful eyes, have engendered it. The taste of 
wheaten bread, the taste of milk and wine, has caused it to grow. The sound 
of church bells heard in a wild place far from village or town has impelled 
words to dance like children in a May-day procession. The contact of sea 
waves against the skin, or the grateful warmth of fire against human naked- 
ness can, and should, have an influence on every sentence. The smell of 
snow, the smell of a hay cock in the sun, nay, the smell that rises from the 
intestines of a rabbit when a man is paunching It with his pocket knife, 
should prove its periods. 

A perfect style is the perfect expression of a man's secret identity. It makes 
arrogant claims. It demands that the ordinary everyday world should give 
attention to the wandering goat-cry of a supreme egoism as sensitive as it 
is tough. It is for this reason that truly great writers are seldom recognized 
in their lifetime. Commonplace readers invariably appreciate commonplace 
writers. They prefer books that reflect ideas and methods of thought with 
which they are already familiar. At all costs the pamphlets they peruse must 
be partial and platitudinous. They shrink from that terrible spirital sincerity 
that burns like fire and prompts a writer to leave his own seal, his own 
thumb-mark, upon every page he writes. 

If I were to be asked by any young person the best way to acquire a style 
I would tell him to live intensely. The style of a man is the direct result of 
his passion for life. Learning and scholarship are of small value here. Style is 
the affirmation of a man's heightened awareness of existence and always 
grows up from within, from out of the marrow of his bones. 

If it were my task to treat of this matter with undergraduates I should 
draw their attention to certain notable passages of English prose and show 
them clearly by specific paragraphs, sentences, or even idiosyncratic words, 
how these men have succeeded in preserving their spirits on parchment for 
all time. This particular and singular use of the country's language is be- 
yond the scope of the vulgar. It would seem that the innate complexion of a 
man's mind finds for itself fitting expression. Powerful and original char- 
acters write in a powerful and original way, shallow and commonplace 
characters write in a shallow and commonplace way. Style has to do with the 
grace, health, and vigour of a man's soul. It is a secret thing dependent upon 
a natural depth of feeling and no amount of playing the sedulous ape can 
pass off as authentic what is in truth counterfeit. Just as in the love between 
a man and a woman true emotion will find convincing expression so it is 
with writing. Sham feeling makes sham prose and it is easily recognized as 

182 The Creative Process 

My own method is to give no thought whatever to the form o what I am 
writing. I put down my ideas as they present themselves pell mell to my 
mind, fanciful, extravagant, sentimental, bawdy, irreverent, irrelevant, they 
are all equally welcome. In going over my work, however, I am prepared to 
spend a great deal of care in endeavouring to find the just word or an 
adequate balance for any particular paragraph. I have noticed that when I 
am writing at my best I experience a peculiar physical sensation. I first be- 
came aware of this peculiarity at school as a boy of twelve when we were 
given an essay to write on the Pied Piper. I have never been able to think a 
subject through before writing. I daresay I should do much better if it were 
my nature to adopt such a method. I consider the greatest difficulty to be 
overcome by immature, untrained writers is lack of confidence. They are 
too self -conscious. When once the pen is in the hand it is important to forget 
about the opinion of others and to write away after your own fashion with 

careless, proud indifference. ^ . 7 

r Yours sincerely, 

Llewelyn Powys 

From "Letter to Warner Taylor," by Llewelyn Powys in Types and Times in the Essay, selected 
and arranged by Warner Taylor. By permission of the publishers: Harper & Brothers, 1932, 
New York City and London. 

Llewelyn Powys 


HAMSUN once said, in response to a questionnaire, that he wrote to 
kill time. I think that even if he were sincere in stating it thus he was 
deluding himself. Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The ad- 
venture is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of 
acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives 
between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually 
to become that path himself. 

I began in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and 
emotions and experiences. Even now I do not consider myself a writer, in 
the ordinary sense of the word. I am a man telling the story of his life, a 
process which appears more and more inexhaustible as I go on. Like the 
world-evolution, it is endless. It is a turning inside out, a voyaging^ through 
X dimensions, with the result that somewhere along the way one discovers 
that what one has to tell is not nearly so important as the telling itself. It is 
this quality about all art which gives it a metaphysical hue, which lifts it out 
of time and space and centers or integrates it to the whole cosmic process. 

184 The Creative Process 

It is this about art which is "therapeutic": significance, purposelessness, in- 

From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. 
I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate 
fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am 
digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past 
and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater 
than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as 
writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man. 

I began assiduously examining the style and technique of those whom I 
once admired and worshipped: Nietzsche, Dostoievski, Hamsun, even 
Thomas Mann, whom today I discard as being a skillful fabricator, a brick- 
maker, an inspired jackass or draught-horse. I imitated every style in the 
hope of finding the clue to the gnawing secret of how to write. Finally I 
came to a dead end, to a despair and desperation which few men have 
known, because there was no divorce between myself as writer and myself 
as man : to fail as a writer meant to fail as a man. And I failed. I realized 
that I was nothing less than nothing a minus quantity. It was at this 
point, in the midst of the dead Sargasso Sea, so to speak, that I really began 
to write. I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those 
whom I most loved. Immediately I heard my own voice I was enchanted : 
the fact that it was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me. It didn't 
matter to me if what I wrote should be considered bad. Good and bad 
dropped out of my vocabulary. I jumped with two feet into the realm of 
aesthetics, the non-moral, non-ethical, non-utilitarian realm of art. My life 
itself became a work of art. I had found a voice, I was whole again. The 
experience was very much like what we read of in connection with the 
lives of Zen initiates. My huge failure was like the recapitulation of the 
experience of the race: I had to grow foul with knowledge, realize the fu- 
tility of everything, smash everything, grow desperate, then humble, then 
sponge myself off the slate, as it were, in order to recover my authenticity. 
I had to arrive at the brink and then take a leap in the dark. 

I talk now about Reality, but I know there is no getting at it, leastwise 
by writing. I learn less and realize more: I learn in some different, more 
subterranean way. I acquire more and more the gift of immediacy. I am 
developing the ability to perceive, apprehend, analyze, synthesize, cate- 
gorize, inform, articulate all at once. The structural element of things 
reveals itself more readily to my eye. I eschew all clear cut interpretations: 
with increasing simplification the mystery heightens. What I know tends 
to become more and more unstatable. I live in certitude, a certitude which 
is not dependent upon proofs or faith. I live completely for myself, without 
the least egotism or selfishness. I am living out my share of life and thus 

Henry Miller 185 

abetting the scheme of things. I further the development, the enrichment, 
the evolution and the devolution of the cosmos, every day in every way. 
I give all I have to give, voluntarily, and take as much as I can possibly 
ingest* I am a prince and a pirate at the same time. I am the equals sign, 
the spiritual counterpart of the sign Libra which was wedged into the orig- 
inal Zodiac by separating Virgo from Scorpio. I find that there is plenty of 
room in the world for everybody great interspatial depths, great ego uni- 
verses, great islands of repair, for whoever attains to individuality. On the 
surface, where the historical battles rage, where everything is interpreted 
in terms of money and power, there may be crowding, but life only begins 
when one drops below the surface, when one gives up the struggle, sinks 
and disappears from sight. Now I can as easily not write as write: there is 
no longer any compulsion, no longer any therapeutic aspect to it. What- 
ever I do is done out of sheer joy : I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the 
general reader or the critic makes of it is not my concern. I am not estab- 
lishing values: I defecate and nourish. There is nothing more to it. 

This condition of sublime indifference is a logical development of the 
egocentric life. I lived out the social problem by dying: the real problem is 
not one of getting on with one's neighbor or of contributing to the develop- 
ment of one's country, but of discovering one's destiny, of making a life in 
accord with the deep-centered rhythm of the cosmos. To be able to use the 
word cosmos boldly, to use the word soul, to deal in things "spiritual" and 
to shun definitions, alibis, proofs, duties. Paradise is everywhere and every 
road, if one continues along it far enough, leads to it. One can only go for- 
ward by going backward and then sideways and then up and then down. 
There is no progress: there is perpetual movement, displacement, which is 
circular, spiral, endless. Every man has his own destiny: the only impera- 
tive is to follow it, to accept it, no matter where it lead him. 

I haven't the slightest idea what my future books will be like, even the 
one immediately to follow. My charts and plans are the slenderest sort of 
guides: I scrap them at will, I invent, distort, deform, He, inflate, exaggerate, 
confound ^and confuse as the mood seizes me. I obey only my own instincts 
and intuitions. I know nothing in advance. Often I put down things which 
I do not understand myself, secure in the knowledge that later they will 
become clear and meaningful to me. I have faith in the man who is writing, 
who is myself, the writer. I do not believe in words, no matter if strung 
together by the most skillful man: I believe in language, which is something 
beyond words, something which words give only an inadequate illusion 
of. Words do not exist separately, except in the miads of scholars^ etymolo- 
gists, philologists, etc. Words divorced from language are dead things, and 
yield no secrets. A man is revealed in his style, the language which he has 
created for himself. To the man who is pure at heart I believe that every- 

186 The Creative Process 

thing is as clear as a bell, even the most esoteric scripts. For such a man there 
is always mystery, but the mystery is not mysterious, it is logical, natural, 
ordained, and implicitly accepted. Understanding is not a piercing of the 
mystery, but an acceptance of it, a living blissfully with it, in it, through 
and by it. I would like my words to flow along in the same way that the 
world flows along, a serpentine movement through incalculable dimen- 
sions, axes, latitudes, climates, conditions. I accept a priori my inability to 
realize such an ideal. It does not bother me in the least. In the ultimate 
sense, the world itself is pregnant with failure, is the perfect manifestation 
of imperfection, of the consciousness of failure. In the realization of this, 
failure is itself eliminated. Like the primal spirit of the universe, like the 
unshakable Absolute, the One, the All, the creator, i.e., the artist, expresses 
himself by and through imperfection. It is the stuff of life, the very sign 
of livingness. One gets nearer to the heart of truth, which I suppose is the 
ultimate aim of the writer, in the measure that he ceases to struggle, in the 
measure that he abandons the will. The great writer is the very symbol of 
life, of the non-perfect. He moves effortlessly, giving the illusion of perfec- 
tion, from some unknown center which is certainly not the brain center but 
which is definitely a center, a center connected with the rhythm of the 
whole universe and consequently as sound, solid, unshakable, as durable, 
defiant, anarchic, purposeless, as the universe itself. Art teaches nothing, 
except the significance of life. The great work must inevitably be obscure, 
except to the very few, to those who like the author himself are initiated 
into the mysteries. Communication then is secondary: it is perpetuation 
which is important. For this only one good reader is necessary. 

If I am a revolutionary, as has been said, it is unconsciously. I am not in 
revolt against the world order. "I revolutionize," as Blaise Cendrars said of 
himself. There is a difference. I can as well live on the minus side of the 
fence as on the plus side. Actually I believe myself to be just above these 
two signs, providing a ratio between them which expresses itself plastically, 
non-ethically, in writing. I believe that one has to pass beyond the sphere 
and influence of art. Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. 
It is not in itself the life more abundant, It merely points the way, some- 
thing which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the 
artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself. Most artists are defeating 
life by their very attempt to grapple with it. They have split the egg in two. 
All art, I firmly believe, will one day disappear. But the artist will remain, 
and life itself will become not "an art," but art, i.e., will definitely and for 
all time usurp the field. In any true sense we are certainly not yet alive. We 
are no longer animals, but we are certainly not yet men. Since the dawn of 
art every great artist has been dinning that into us, but few are they who 
have understood it. Once act is really accepted it will cease to be. It is only 

Henry Miller i8j 

a substitute, a symbol-language, for something which can be seized directly. 
But for that to become possible man must become thoroughly religious, not 
a believer, but a prime mover, a god in fact and deed. He will become that 
inevitably. And of all the detours along this path art is the most glorious, 
the most fecund, the most instructive. The artist who becomes thoroughly 
aware consequently ceases to be one. And the trend is towards awareness, 
towards that blinding consciousness in which no present form of life can 
possibly flourish, not even art. 

To some this will sound like mystification, but it is an honest statement 
of my present convictions. It should be borne in mind, of course, that there 
is an inevitable discrepancy between the truth of the matter and what one 
thinks, even about himself: but it should also be borne in mind that there 
exists an equal discrepancy between the judgment of another and this same 
truth. Between subjective and objective there is no vital difference. Every- 
thing is illusive and more or less transparent. All phenomena, including 
man and his thoughts about himself, are nothing more than a movable, 
changeable alphabet. There are no solid facts to get hold of. Thus in writ- 
ing, even if my distortions and deformations be deliberate, they are not 
necessarily less near to the truth of things. One can be absolutely truthful 
and sincere even though admittedly the most outrageous liar. Fiction and 
invention are of the very fabric of life. The truth is no way disturbed by 
the violent perturbations of the spirit. 

Thus, whatever effects I may obtain by technical device are never the 
mere results of technique, but the very accurate registering by my seismo- 
graphic needle of the tumultuous, manifold, mysterious and incomprehen- 
sible experiences which I have lived through and which, in the process of 
writing are lived through again, differently, perhaps even more tumultu- 
ously, more mysteriously, more incomprehensibly. The so-called core of 
solid fact, which forms the point of departure as well as repair, is deeply 
embedded in me: I could not possibly lose it, alter it, disguise it, try as I 
may. And yet it is altered, just as the face of the world is altered, with each 
moment that we breathe. To record it then, one must give a double illu- 
sionone of arrestation and one of flow. It is this dual trick, so to speak, 
which gives the illusion of falsity: it is this lie, this fleeting, metamorphic 
mask, which is of the very essence of art. One anchors oneself in the flow: 
one adopts the lying mask in order to reveal the truth. 

I have often thought that I should like one day to write a book explaining 
how I wrote certain passages in my books, or perhaps just one passage. I 
believe I could write a good-sized book on just one small paragraph se- 
lected at random from my work. A book about its inception, its genesis, its 
metamorphosis, its accouchement, of the time which elapsed between the 
birth of the idea and its recording, the time it took to write it, the thoughts 

188 The Creative Process 

I had between times while writing it, the day of the week, the state of my 
health, the condition of my nerves, the interruptions that occurred, those 
of my own volition and those which were forced upon me, the multifarious 
varieties of expression which occurred to me in the process of writing, the 
alterations, the point where I left off and in returning, completely altered 
the original trend, or the point where I skillfully left off, like a surgeon 
making the best of a bad job, intending to return and resume some time 
later, but never doing so, or else returning and continuing the trend un- 
consciously some few books later when the memory of it had completely 
vanished. Or I might take one passage against another, passages which the 
cold eye of the critic seizes on as examples of this or that, and utterly con- 
found them, the analytical-minded critics, by demonstrating how a seem- 
ingly effortless piece of writing was achieved under great duress whereas 
another difficult, labyrinthian passage was written like a breeze, like a 
geyser erupting. Or I could show how a passage originally shaped itself 
when in bed, how it became transformed upon arising, and again trans- 
formed at the moment of sitting down to record it. Or I could produce my 
scratch pad to show how the most remote, the most artificial stimulus pro- 
duced a warm, life-like human flower. I could produce certain words dis- 
covered by hazard while riffling the pages of a book, show how they set me 
off but who on earth could ever guess how, in what manner, they were 
to set me off? All that the critics write about a work of art, even at the best, 
even when most sound, convincing, plausible, even when done with love, 
which is seldom, is as nothing compared to the actual mechanics, the real 
genetics of a work of art. I remember my work, not word for word, to be 
sure, but in some more accurate, trustworthy way; my whole work has 
come to resemble a terrain of which I have made a thorough, geodetic sur- 
vey, not from a desk, with pen and ruler, but by touch, by getting down on 
all fours, on my stomach, and crawling over the ground inch by inch, and 
this over an endless period of time in all conditions of weather. In short, I am 
as close to the work now as when I was in the act of executing it closer 
perhaps. The conclusion of a book was never anything more than a shift 
of bodily position. It might have ended in a thousand different ways. No 
single part of it is finished off: I could resume the narrative at any point, 
carry on, lay canals, tunnels, bridges, houses, factories, stud it with other 
inhabitants, other fauna and flora, all equally true to fact. I have no begin- 
ning and no ending, actually. Just as life begins at any moment, through 
an act of realization, so the work. But each beginning, whether of book, 
page, paragraph, sentence or phrase, marks a vital connection, and it is in 
the vitality, the durability, the timelessness and changelessness of the 
thoughts and events that I plunge anew each time. Every line and word is 
vitally connected with my life, my life only, be it in the form of deed, event, 

Henry Miller 189 

fact, thought, emotion, desire, evasion, frustration, dream, revery, vagary, 
even the unfinished nothings which float listlessly in the brain like the 
snapped filaments of a spider's web. There is nothing really vague or tenu- 
ouseven the nothingnesses are sharp, tough, definite, durable. Like the 
spider I return again and again to the task, conscious that the web I am 
spinning is made of my own substance, that it will never fail me, never 
run dry. 

In the beginning I had dreams of rivaling Dostoievsky I hoped to give 
to the world huge, labyrinthian soul struggles which would devastate the 
world. But before very far along I realized that we had evolved to a point 
far beyond that of Dostoievski beyond in the sense of degeneration. With 
us the soul problem has disappeared, or rather presents itself in some 
strangely distorted chemical guise. We are dealing with crystalline ele- 
ments of the dispersed and shattered soul. The modern painters express this 
state or condition perhaps even more forcibly than the writer: Picasso is 
the perfect example of what I mean. It was quite impossible for me, there- 
fore, to think of writing novels; equally unthinkable to follow the various 
blind alleys represented by the various literary movements in England, 
France and America. I felt compelled, in all honesty, to take the disparate 
and dispersed elements of our life the soul life, not the cultural life and 
manipulate them through my own personal mode, using my own shat- 
tered and dispersed ego as heartlessly and recklessly as I would the flotsam 
and jetsam of the surrounding phenomenal world. I have never felt any 
antagonism for or anxiety over the anarchy represented by the prevailing 
forms of art; on the contrary, I have always welcomed the dissolving influ- 
ences. In an age marked by dissolution, liquidation seems to me a virtue, 
nay a moral imperative. Not only have I never felt the least desire to con- 
looked upon decay as being just as wonderful and rich an expression of life 
serve, bolster up or buttress anything, but I might say that I have always 
as growth. 

I think I should also confess that I was driven to write because it proved 
to be the only outlet open to me, the only task worthy of my powers. I had 
honestly tried all the other roads to freedom. I was a self-willed failure in 
the so-called world of reality, not a failure because of lack of ability. Writ- 
ing was not an "escape," a means of evading the every day reality: on the 
contrary, it meant a still deeper plunge into the brackish pool a plunge to 
the source where the waters were constantly being renewed, where there 
was perpetual movement and stir. Looking back upon my career, I see my- 
self as a person capable of undertaking almost any task, any vocation. It 
was the monotony and sterility of the other outlets which drove me to des- 
peration. I demanded a realm in which I should be both master and slave 
at the same time: the world of art is the only such realm. I entered it with- 

190 ' The Creative Process 

out any apparent talent, a thorough novice, incapable, awkward, tongue- 
tied, almost paralyzed by fear and apprehensiveness. I had to lay one brick 
on another, set millions of words to paper before writing one real, authentic 
word dragged up from my own guts. The facility of speech which I pos- 
sessed was a handicap; I had all the vices of the educated man. I had to 
learn to think, feel and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, 
in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world. I had to throw 
myself into the current, knowing that I would probably sink. The great 
majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around 
their necks, and more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks 
them. Nobody can drown in the ocean of reality who voluntarily gives him- 
self up to the experience. Whatever there be of progress in life comes not 
through adaptation but through daring, through obeying the blind urge. 
"No daring is fatal," said Rene Crevel, a phrase which I shall never forget. 
The whole logic of the universe is contained in daring, i.e., in creating from 
the flimsiest, slenderest support. In the beginning this daring is mistaken for 
will, but with time the will drops away and the automatic process takes its 
place, which again has to be broken or dropped and a new certitude estab- 
lished which has nothing to do with knowledge, skill, technique or faith. 
By daring one arrives at the mysterious X position of the artist, and it is 
this anchorage which no one can describe in words but yet subsists and 
exudes from every line that is written. 

From "Reflections on Writing," by Henry Miller in The Wisdom of the Heart. By permission 
of the author and the publishers: New Directions, 1941, Norfolk, Connecticut. 

Henry Miller 

Thomas Wolfe : THE STORY OF A NOVEL 


HAD BEEN to Europe five times now; each time I had come with delight, 
with maddening eagerness to return, and each time how, where, and in 
what way I did not know, I had felt the bitter ache of homelessness, a des- 
perate longing for America, an overwhelming desire to return. 

During that summer in Paris, I think I felt this great homesickness more 
than ever before, and I really believe that from this emotion, this constant 
and almost intolerable effort of memory and desire, the material and the 
structure of the books I now began to write were derived. 

The quality of my memory is characterized, I believe, in a more than 
ordinary degree by the intensity of its sense impressions, its power to evoke 
and bring back the odors, sounds, colors, shapes, and feel of things with 
concrete vividness. Now my memory was at work night and day, in a way 
that I could at first neither check nor control and that swarmed unbidden 
in a stream of blazing pageantry across my mind, with the million forms 
and substances of the life that I had left, which was my own, America. I 
would be sitting, for example, on the terrace of a cafe watching the flash 

192 The Creative Process 

and play of life before me on the Avenue de 1'Opera and suddenly I would 
remember the iron railing that goes along the boardwalk at Atlantic City. 
I could see it instantly just the way it was, the heavy iron pipe; its raw, gal- 
vanized look; the way the joints were fitted together. It was all so vivid and 
concrete that I could feel my hand upon it and know the exact dimensions, 
its size and weight and shape. And suddenly I would realize that I had 
never seen any railing that looked like this in Europe. And this utterly 
familiar, common thing would suddenly be revealed to me with all the 
wonder with which we discover a thing which we have seen all our life and 
yet have never known before. Or again, it would be a bridge, the look of 
an old iron bridge across an American river, the sound the train makes as 
it goes across it; the spoke-and-hollow rumble of the ties below; the look of 
the muddy banks; the slow, thick, yellow wash of an American river; an 
old flat-bottomed boat half filled with water stogged in the muddy bank. . . . 

I would sit there, looking out upon the Avenue de 1'Opera and my life 
would ache with the whole memory of it; the desire to see it again; some- 
how to find a word for it; a language that would tell its shape, its color, the 
way we have all known and felt and seen it. And when I understood this 
thing, I saw that I must find for myself the tongue to utter what I knew but 
could not say. And from the moment of that discovery, the line and pur- 
pose of my life was shaped. The end toward which every energy of my life 
and talent would be henceforth directed was in such a way as this defined. 
It was as if I had discovered a whole new universe of chemical elements and 
had begun to see certain relations between some of them but had by no 
means begun to organize the whole series into a harmonious and coherent 
union. From this time on, I think my efforts might be described as the 
effort to complete that organization, to discover that articulation for which 
I strove, to bring about that final coherent union. I know that I have failed 
thus far in doing so, but I believe I understand pretty thoroughly just 
where the nature of my failure lies, and of course my deepest and most 
earnest hope is that the time will come when I shall not fail. 

At any rate, from this time on the general progress of the three books 
which I was to write in the next four and a half years could be fairly de- 
scribed in somewhat this way. It was a progress that began in a whirling 
vortex and a creative chaos and that proceeded slowly at the expense of in- 
finite confusion, toil, and error toward clarification and the articulation of 
an ordered and formal structure. An extraordinary image remains to me 
from that year, the year I spent abroad when the material of these books 
first began to take on an articulate form. It seemed that I had inside me, 
swelling and gathering all the time, a huge black cloud, and that this cloud 
was loaded with electricity, pregnant, crested, with a kind of hurricane vio- 
lence that could not be held in check much longer; that the moment was 

Thomas Wolfe 793 

approaching fast when it must break. Well, all I can say is that the storm 
did break. It broke that summer while I was in Switzerland. It came in 
torrents, and it is not over yet. 

I cannot really say the book was written. It was something that took hold 
of me and possessed me, and before I was done with it that is, before I 
finally emerged with the first completed part it seemed to me that it had 
done for me. It was exactly as if this great black storm cloud I have spoken 
of had opened up and, mid flashes of lightning, was pouring from its depth 
a torrential and ungovernable flood. Upon that flood everything was swept 
and borne along as by a great river. And I was borne along with it. 

There was nothing at first which could be called a novel. I wrote about 
night and darkness in America, and the faces of the sleepers in ten thousand 
little towns; and of the tides of sleep and how the rivers flowed forever in 
the darkness. I wrote about the hissing glut of tides upon ten thousand 
miles of coast; of how the moonlight blazed down on the wilderness and 
filled the cat's cold eye with blazing yellow. I wrote about death and sleep, 
and of that enf abled rock of life we call the city. I wrote about October, of 
great trains that thundered through the night, of ships and stations in the 
morning; of men in harbors and the traffic of the ships. 

I spent the winter of that year in England from October until March, and 
here perhaps because of the homely familiarity of the English life, the sense 
of order and repose which such a life can give one, my work moved forward 
still another step from this flood tide chaos of creation. For the first time 
the work began to take on the lineaments of design. These lineaments were 
still confused and broken, sometimes utterly lost, but now I really did get 
the sense at last that I was working on a great block of marble, shaping a 
figure which no one but its maker could as yet define, but which was emerg- 
ing more and more into the sinewy lines of composition. 

From the beginning and this was one fact that in all my times of hope- 
lessness returned to fortify my faith in my conviction the idea, the central 
legend that I wished my book to express had not changed. And this central 
idea was this: the deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in 
ofte way or another was central to all living was man's search to find a 
father., not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the lost father of his 
youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and 
superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could 
be united. 

Yet I was terribly far away from the actual accomplishment of a book 
how far away I could not at that time foresee. But four more years would 
have to pass before the first of a series of books on which I was now em- 
barked would be ready for the press, and if I could have known that in 
those next four years there would be packed a hundred lives of birth and 

194 The Creative Process 

death, despair, defeat, and triumph and the sheer exhaustion of a brute 
fatigue, I do not know whether or not I could have found the power within 
myself to continue. But I was still sustained by the exuberant optimism of 
youth. My temperament, which is pessimistic about many things, has al- 
ways been a curiously sanguine one concerning time, and although more 
than a year had now gone by and I had done no more than write great 
chants on death and sleep, prepare countless notes and trace here and there 
the first dim outlines of a formal pattern, I was confident that by the spring 
or the fall of the next year my book would somehow miraculously be ready. 

So far as I can describe with any accuracy, the progress of that winter's 
work in England was not along the lines of planned design, but along this 
line that I have mentioned writing some of the sections which I knew 
would have to be in the book. Meanwhile what was really going on in my 
whole creative consciousness, during all this time, although I did not 
realize it at the moment, was this: What I was really doing, what I had 
been doing all the time since my discovery of my America in Paris the 
summer before, was to explore day by day and month by month with a 
fanatical intensity, the whole material domain of my resources as a man 
and as a writer. This exploration went on for a period which I can estimate 
conservatively as two years and a half. It is still going on, although not with 
the same all-absorbing concentration, because the work it led to, the work 
that after infinite waste and labor it helped me wonderfully to define, that 
work has reached such a state of final definition that the immediate task of 
finishing it is the one that now occupies the energy and interest of my life. 

In a way, during that period of my life, I think I was like the Ancient 
Mariner who told the Wedding Guest that his frame was wrenched by the 
woeful agony which forced him to begin his tale before it left him free. In 
my own experience, my wedding guests were the great ledgers in which I 
wrote, and the tale which I told to them would have seemed, I am afraid, 
completely incoherent, as meaningless as Chinese characters, had any 
reader seen them. I could by no means hope to give a comprehensive idea 
of the whole extent of this labor because three years of work and perhaps 
a million and a half words went into these books. It included everything 
from gigantic and staggering lists of the towns, cities, counties, states, and 
countries I had been in, to minutely thorough, desperately evocative de- 
scriptions of the undercarriage, the springs, wheels, flanges, axle rods, color, 
weight, and quality of the day coach of an American railway train. There 
were lists of the rooms and houses in which I had lived or in which I had 
slept for at least a night, together with the most accurate and evocative 
descriptions of those rooms that I could write their size, their shape, the 
color and design of the wallpaper, the way a towel hung down, the way a 
chair creaked, a streak of water rust upon the ceiling. There were countless 

Thomas Wolfe 795 

charts, catalogues, descriptions that I can only classify here under the gen- 
eral heading of Amount and Number. What were the total combined popu- 
lations of all the countries in Europe and America? In how many of those 
countries had I had some personal and vital experience? In the course of my 
twenty-nine or thirty years of living, how many people had I seen ? How 
many had I passed by on the streets ? How many had I seen on trains and 
subways, In theatres, at baseball or football games? With how many had I 
actually had some vital and illuminating experience, whether of joy, pain, 
anger, pity, love, or simple casual companionship, however brief? 

In addition, one might come upon other sections under some such cryptic 
heading as "Where now?" Under such a heading as this, there would be 
brief notations of those thousands of things which all of us have seen for 
just a flash, a moment in our lives, which seem to be of no consequence 
whatever at the moment that we see them, and which live in our minds and 
hearts forever, which are somehow pregnant with all the joy and sorrow 
of the human destiny, and which we know, somehow, are therefore more 
important than many things of more apparent consequence. "Where now?" 
Some quiet steps that came and passed along a leafy night-time street in 
summer in a little town down South long years ago; a woman's voice, her 
sudden burst of low and tender laughter; then the voices and the footsteps 

going, silence, the leafy rustle of the trees Where now in these great 

ledger books, month after month, I wrote such things as this, not only the 
concrete, material record of man's ordered memory, but all the things he 
scarcely dares to think he has remembered; all the flicks and darts and 
haunting lights that flash across the mind of man that will return unbidden 
at an unexpected moment: a voice once heard; a face that vanished; the 
way the sunlight came and went; the rustling of a leaf upon a bough; a 
stone, a leaf, a door. 

It may be objected, it has been objected already by certain critics, that in 
such research as I have here attempted to describe there is a quality of in- 
temperate excess, an almost insane hunger to devour the entire body of 
human experience, to attempt to include more, experience more, than the 
measure of one life can hold, or than the limits of a single work of art can 
well define. I readily admit the validity of this criticism. I think I realize 
as well as any one the fatal dangers that are consequent to such a ravenous 
desire, the damage it may wreak upon one's life and on one's work. But 
having had this thing within me, it was in no way possible for me to reason 
it out of me, no matter how cogently my reason worked against it. The 
only way I could meet it was to meet it squarely, not with reason but with 

It was part of my life; for many years it was my life; and the only way 
I could get it out of me was to live it out of me. And that is what I did. I 

196 The Creative Process 

have not wholly succeeded in that purpose yet, but I have succeeded better 
than I at one time dared to hope. And now I really believe that so far as 
the artist is concerned, the unlimited extent of human experience is not so 
important for him as the depth and intensity with which he experiences 
things. I also know now that it is a great deal more important to have 
known one hundred living men and women in New York, to have under- 
stood their lives, to have got, somehow, at the root and source from which 
their natures came than to have seen or passed or talked with 7,000,000 
people upon the city streets. And what finally I should most like to say 
about this research which I have attempted to describe is this: That foolish 
and mistaken as much of it may seem, the total quality, end, and impact of 
that whole experience was not useless or excessive. And from my own point 
of view, at least, it is in its whole implication the one thing I may have to 
tell about my experience as a writer which may be of some concrete value 
to other people. I consider this experience on the whole the most valuable 
and practical in my whole writing life thus far. With all the waste and 
error and confusion it led me into, it brought me closer to a concrete defi- 
nition of my resources, a true estimate of my talents at this period of my 
life, and, most of all, toward a rudimentary, a just-beginning, but a living 
apprehension of the articulation I am looking for, the language I have got 
to have if, as an artist, my life is to proceed and grow, than any other thing 
that has ever happened to me. 

I know the door is not yet open. I know the tongue, the speech, the lan- 
guage that I seek is not yet found, but I believe with all my heart that I 
have found the way, have made a channel, am started on my first beginning. 
And I believe with all my heart, also, that each man for himself and in his 
own way, each man who ever hopes to make a living thing out of the sub- 
stances of his one life, must find that way, that language, and that door 
must find it for himself as I have tried to do. 

When I returned to America in the spring of 1931, although I had three 
or four hundred thousand words of material, I had nothing that could be 
published as a novel. ... 

The spring passed into the summer; the summer, into autumn. I was 
working hard, day after day, and still nothing that had the unity and de- 
sign of a single work appeared. October came and with it a second full 
year since the publication of my first book. And now, for the first time, I 
was irrevocably committed so far as the publication of my book was con- 
cerned. I began to feel the sensation of pressure, and of naked desperation, 
which was to become almost maddeningly intolerable in the next three 
years. For the first time I began to realize that my project was much larger 
than I thought it would be. I had still believed at the time of my return 
from Europe that I was writing a single book, which would be comprised 

Thomas Wolfe 197 

within the limits of about 200,000 words. Now as scene followed scene, as 
character after character came into being, as my understanding of my 
material became more comprehensive, I discovered that it would be im- 
possible to write the book I had planned within the limits I had thought 
would be sufficient. 

All of this time I was being baffled by a certain time element in the book, 
by a time relation which could not be escaped, and for which I was now 
desperately seeking some structural channel. There were three time ele- 
ments inherent in the material. The first and most obvious was an element 
of actual present time, an element which carried the narrative forward, 
which represented characters and events as living in the present and mov- 
ing forward into an immediate future. The second time element was of past 
time, one which represented these same characters as acting and as being 
acted upon by all the accumulated impact of man's experience so that each 
moment of their lives was conditioned not only by what they experienced 
in that moment, but by all that they had experienced up to that moment. 
In addition to these two time elements, there was a third which I conceived 
as being time immutable, the time of rivers, mountains, oceans, and the 
earth; a kind of eternal and unchanging universe of time against which 
would be projected the transience of man's life, the bitter briefness of his 
day. It was the tremendous problem of these three time elements that almost 
defeated me and that cost me countless hours of anguish in the years that 
were to follow. 

As I began to realize the true nature of the task I had set for myself, the 
image of the river began to haunt my mind. I actually felt that I had a 
great river thrusting for release inside of me and that I had to find a channel 
into which its flood-like power could pour, I knew I had to find it or I 
would be destroyed in the flood of my own creation, and I am sure that 
every artist who ever lived has had the same experience. 

Meanwhile, I was being baffled by a fixed and impossible idea whose 
error at the time I did not fully apprehend. I was convinced at that time that 
this whole gigantic plan had to be realized within the limits of a single 
book which would be called "The October Fair." It was not until more than 
a year had passed, when I realized finally that what I had to deal with was 
material which covered almost 150 years in history, demanded the action 
of more than 2000 characters, and would in its final design include almost 
every racial type and social class of American life, that I realized that even 
the pages of a book of 200,000 words were wholly inadequate for the purpose. 

How did I finally arrive at this conclusion? I think it is not too much to 
say that I simply wrote myself into it. During all that year, I was writing 
furiously, feeling now that full pressure of inexorable time, the need to finish 
something. I wrote like mad; I finished scene after scene, chapter after 

198 The Creative Process 

chapter. The characters began to come to life, to grow and multiply until 
they were numbered by the hundreds, but so huge was the extent of my 
design, as I now desperately realized, that I can liken these chapters only to 
a row of lights which one sometimes sees at night from the windows of a 
speeding train, strung out across the dark and lonely countryside. 

I would work furiously day after day until my creative energies were 
utterly exhausted, and although at the end of such a period I would have 
written perhaps as much as 200,000 words, enough in itself to make a very 
long book, I would realize with a feeling of horrible despair that what I had 
completed was only one small section of a single book. 

During this time I reached that state of naked need and utter isolation 
which every artist has got to meet and conquer if he is to survive at all. Be- 
fore this I had been sustained by that delightful illusion of success which 
we all have when we dream about the books we are going to write instead 
of actually doing them. Now I was face to face with it, and suddenly I 
realized that I had committed my life and my integrity so irrevocably to 
this struggle that I must conquer now or be destroyed. I was alone with my 
own work, and now I knew that I had to be alone with it, that no one 
could help me with it now no matter how any one might wish to help. For 
the first time I realized another naked fact which every artist must know, 
and that is that in a man's work there are contained not only the seeds of 
life, but the seeds of death, and that that power of creation which sustains 
us will also destroy us like a leprosy if we let it rot stillborn in our vitals. 
I had to get it out of me somehow. I saw that now. And now for the first 
time a terrible doubt began to creep into my mind that I might not live 
long enough to get it out of me, that I had created a labor so large and so 
impossible that the energy of a dozen lifetimes would not suffice for its 

During this time, however, I was sustained by one piece of inestimable 
good fortune. I had for a friend a man of immense and patient wisdom and 
a gentle but unyielding fortitude. I think that if I was not destroyed at this 
time by the sense of hopelessness which these gigantic labors had awakened 
in me, it was largely because of the courage and patience of this man. I did 
not give in because he would not let me give in, and I think it is also true 
that at this particular time he had the advantage of being in the position 
of a skilled observer at a battle. I was myself engaged in that battle, covered 
by its dust and sweat and exhausted by its struggle, and I understood far 
less clearly than my friend the nature and the progress of the struggle in 
which I was engaged. At this time there was little that this man could do 
except observe, and in one way or another keep me at my task, and in many 
quiet and marvelous ways he succeeded in doing this. 

Thomas Wolfe 199 

I was now at the place where I must produce, and even the greatest editor 
can do little for a writer until he has brought from the secret darkness of 
his own spirit into the common light of day the completed concrete accom- 
plishment of his imagining. My friend, the editor, has likened his own 
function at this painful time to that of a man who is trying to hang on to 
the fin of a plunging whale, but hang on he did, and it is to his tenacity that 
I owe my final release. 

Meanwhile, my creative power was functioning at the highest intensity 
it had ever known. I wrote at times without belief that I would ever finish, 
with nothing in me but black despair, and yet I wrote and wrote and could 
not give up writing. And it seemed that despair itself was the very goad 
that urged me on, that made me write even when I had no belief that I 
would ever finish. It seemed to me that my life in Brooklyn, although I had 
been there only two and a half years, went back through centuries of time, 
through ocean depths of black and bottomless experience which no ordi- 
nary scale of hours would ever measure. People have sometimes asked me 
what happened to my life during these years. They have asked me how I 
ever found time to know anything that was going on in the world about 
me when my life was so completely absorbed by this world of writing. 
Well, it may seem to be an extraordinary fact, but the truth is that never 
in my whole life have I lived so fully, have I shared so richly in the com- 
mon life of man as I did during these three years when I was struggling 
with the giant problem of my own work. 

For one thing, my whole sensory and creative equipment, my powers of 
feeling and reflection even the sense of hearing, and above all, my powers 
o memory, had reached the greatest degree of sharpness that they had ever 
known. At the end of the day of savage labor, my mind was still blazing 
with its effort, could by no opiate of reading, poetry, music, alcohol, or any 
other pleasure, be put at rest, I was unable to sleep, unable to subdue the 
tumult of these creative energies, and as a result of this condition, for three 
years I prowled the streets, explored the swarming web of the million- 
footed city and came to know it as I had never done before. It was a black 
time in the history of the nation, a black time in my own life and, I suppose, 
it is but natural that my own memory oiit now should be a pretty grim and 
painful one. 

Everywhere around me, during these years, I saw the evidence of an 
incalculable ruin and suffering. . . . 

And from it all, there has come as the final deposit, a burning memory, a 
certain evidence of the fortitude of man, his ability to suffer and somehow 
to survive. And it is for this reason now that I think I shall always remember 
this black period with a kind of joy that I could not at that time have be- 
lieved possible, for it was during this time that I lived my life through to 

200 The Creative Process 

a first completion, and through the suffering and labor of my own life caine 
to share those qualities in the lives of people all around me. And that is 
another thing which the making of a book has done for me. It has given 
my life that kind of growth which I think the fulfillment of each work 
does give the artist's life, and insofar as I have known these things, I think 
that they have added to my stature. 

The early winter of 1933 arrived and with it, it seemed to me, the final 
doom of an abysmal failure. I still wrote and wrote, but blindly, hopelessly, 
like an old horse who trots around in the unending circle of a treadmill 
and knows no other end nor purpose for his life than this. If I slept at 
night, it was to sleep an unceasing nightmare of blazing visions that swept 
across my fevered and unresting mind. And when I woke, it was to wake 
exhausted, not knowing anything but work, lashing myself on into a hope- 
less labor, and so furiously at it through the day; and then night again, a 
frenzied prowling of a thousand streets, and so to bed and sleepless sleep 
again, the nightmare pageantry to which my consciousness lay chained a 

Such was the state my life had come to in the early winter of 1933, and 
even at that moment, although I could not see it, the end of my huge labor 
was in sight. In the middle of December of that year the editor, of whom 
I have spoken, and who, during all this tormented period, had kept a quiet 
watch upon me, called me to his home and calmly informed me that my 
book was finished. I could only look at him with stunned surprise, and 
finally I only could tell him out of the depth of my own hopelessness, that 
he was mistaken, that the book was not finished, that it could never be 
completed, that I could write no more. He answered with the same quiet 
finality that the book was finished whether I knew it or not, and then he 
told me to go to my room and spend the next week in collecting in its 
proper order the manuscript which had accumulated during the last two 

I followed his instructions, still without hope and without belief. I worked 
for six days sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by mountainous 
stacks of typed manuscript on every side. At the end of a week I had the 
first part of it together, and just two days before Christmas, 1933, 1 delivered 
to him the manuscript of "The October Fair/' and a few days later, the 
manuscript of "The Hills Beyond Pentland." The manuscript of "The 
Fair" was, at that time, something over 1,000,000 words in length. He had 
seen most of it in its dismembered fragments during the three preceding 
years, but now, for the first time, he was seeing it in its sequential order, and 
once again his intuition was right; he had told me the truth when he said 
that I had finished the book. 

It was not finished in any way that was publishable or readable. It was 

Thomas Wolfe 201 

really not a book so much as it was the skeleton of a book, but for the first 
time in four years the skeleton was all there. An enormous labor of revision, 
weaving together, shaping, and, above all, cutting remained, but I had the 
book now so that nothing, not even the despair of my own spirit, could take 
it from me. He told me so, and suddenly I saw that he was right. 

I was like a man who is drowning and who suddenly, at the last gasp of 
his dying effort, feels earth beneath his feet again. My spirit was borne up- 
ward by the greatest triumph it had ever known, and although my mind 
was tired, my body exhausted, from that moment on I felt equal to any- 
thing on earth. 

It was evident that many problems were before us, but now we had the 
thing, and we welcomed the labor before us with happy confidence. In the 
first place there was the problem of the book's gigantic length. Even in this 
skeletonized form the manuscript of "The October Fair" was about twelve 
times the length of the average novel or twice the length of War and Peace. 
It was manifest, therefore, that it would not only be utterly impossible to 
publish such a manuscript in a single volume, but that even if it were pub- 
lished in several volumes, the tremendous length of such a manuscript 
would practically annihilate its chances of ever finding a public which 
would read it. 

This problem now faced us, and the editor grappled with it immediately. 
As his examination of the manuscript of "The October Fair" proceeded, he 
found that the book did describe two complete and separate cycles. The first 
of these was a movement which described the period of wandering and 
hunger in a man's youth. The second cycle described the period of greater 
certitude, and was dominated by the unity of a single passion. It was obvious, 
therefore, that what we had in the two cyclic movements of this book was 
really the material of two completely different chronicles, and although the 
second of the two was by far the more finished, the first cycle, of course, was 
the one which logically we ought to complete and publish first, and we 
decided on this course. 

We took the first part first. I immediately prepared a minutely thorough 
synopsis which described not only the course of the book from first to last, 
but which also included an analysis of those chapters which had been com- 
pleted in their entirety, of those which were completed only in part, and of 
those which had not been written at all, and with this synopsis before us, 
we set to work immediately to prepare the book for press. This work 
occupied me throughout the whole of the year 1934. The book was com- 
pleted at the beginning of 1935, and was published in March of that year 
under the title of Of Time and the River. 

In the first place, the manuscript, even in its unfinished form, called for 
the most radical cutting, and because of the way in which the book had been 

202 The Creative Process 

written, as well as the fatigue which I now felt, I was not well prepared to 
do by myself the task that lay ahead of us. 

Cutting had always been the most difficult and distasteful part of writing 
to me; my tendency had always been to write rather than to cut. Moreover, 
whatever critical faculty I may have had concerning my own work had been 
seriously impaired, for the time being at least, by the frenzied labor of the 
past four years. When a man's work has poured from him for almost five 
years like burning lava from a volcano; when all of it, however superfluous, 
has been given fire and passion by the white heat of his own creative energy, 
it is very difficult suddenly to become coldly surgical, ruthlessly detached 

My spirit quivered at the bloody execution. My soul recoiled before the 
carnage of so many lovely things cut out upon which my heart was set. But 
it had to be done, and we did it 

Meanwhile I was proceeding at full speed with the work of completing my 
design, finishing the unfinished parts and filling in the transition links 
which were essential. 

This in itself was an enormous job and kept me writing all day long as 
hard as I could go for a full year. Here again the nature of my chief fault 
was manifest. I wrote too much again. I not only wrote what was essential, 
but time and time again my enthusiasm for a good scene, one of those 
enchanting vistas which can open up so magically to a man in the full flow 
of his creation, would overpower me, and I would write thousands of words 
upon a scene which contributed nothing of vital importance to a book whose 
greatest need already was ruthless condensation. 

During the course of this year, I must have written well over a half million 
words of additional manuscript, of which, of course, only a small part was 
finally used. 

The nature of my method, the desire fully to explore my material, had 
led me into another error. The whole effect of those five years of incessant 
writing had been to make me feel not only that everything had to be used, 
but that everything had to be told, that nothing could be implied. Therefore, 
at the end, there were at least a dozen additional chapters which I felt had to 
be completed to give the book its final value. A thousand times I debated 
this question desperately with my editor. I told him that these chapters had 
to go in simply because I felt the book would not be complete without them, 
and with every argument he had, he tried to show me that I was wrong. I 
see now that on the whole he was right about it, but at the time I was so 
inextricably involved in my work, that I did not have the detachment 
necessary for a true appraisal. 

The end came suddenly the end of those five years of torment and in- 
cessant productivity. In October I took a trip to Chicago, a two weeks' vaca- 
tion, my first in over a year. When I returned I found that my editor had 

Thomas Wolfe 203 

quietly and decisively sent the manuscript to the press, the printers were 
already at work on it, the proof was beginning to come in. I had not foreseen 
it; I was desperate, bewildered. "You can't do it," I told him, "the book is 
not yet finished. I must have six months more on it." 

To this he answered that the book was not only finished, but that if I took 
six months more on it, I would then demand another six months and six 
months more beyond that, and that I might very well become so obsessed 
with this one work that I would never get it published. He went on to say, 
and I think with complete justice, that such a course was wrong for me. 
I was not, he said, a Flaubert kind of writer. I was not a perfectionist. I had 
twenty, thirty, almost any number of books in me, and the important thing 
was to get them produced and not to spend the rest of my life in perfecting 
one book. He agreed that with six months' additional work upon the book, 
I might achieve a certain finish and completeness, but he did not think that 
the benefit would be nearly as great as I thought it would be, and his own 
deep conviction was that the book should be published at once without 
further delay, that I should get it out of me, forget about it, turn my life to 
the final completion of the work which was already prepared and ready, 
waiting for me. He told me, furthermore, exactly what the nature of the 
criticism would be, the criticism of its length, its adjectives, its over- 
abundance, but he told me not to despair. 

He told me finally that I would go on and do better work, that I would 
learn to work without so much confusion, waste, and useless torment, that 
my future books would more and more achieve the unity, sureness, and 
finality that every artist wants his work to have, but that I had to learn in 
the way I had learned, groping, struggling, finding my own way for myself, 
that this was the only way to learn 

The life of the artist at any epoch of man's history has not been an easy 
one. And here in America, it has often seemed to me, it may well be the 
hardest life that man has ever known, I am not speaking of some frustration 
in our native life, some barrenness of spirit, some arid Philistinism which 
contends against the artist's life and which prevents his growth. I do not 
speak of these things because I do not put the same belief in them that I once 
did. I am speaking as I have tried to speak from first to last in the concrete 
terms of the artist's actual experience, of the nature of the physical task 
before him. It seems to me that the task is one whose physical proportions 
are vaster and more difficult here than in any other nation on the earth. It is 
not merely that in the cultures of Europe and of the Orient the American 
artist can find no antecedent scheme, no structural plan, no body of tradition 
that can give his own work the validity and truth that it must have. It is not 
merely that he must make somehow a new tradition for himself, derived 
from his own life and from the enormous space and energy of American 

204 The Creative Process 

life, the structure of his own design; it is not merely that he is confronted 
by these problems; it is even more than this, that the labor of a complete and 
whole articulation, the discovery of an entire universe and of a complete 
language, is the task that lies before him 

From The Story of a 'Novel, by Thomas Wolfe. By permission o the publishers: Charles 
Scribner's Sons, 1936, New York City. 

Thomas Wolfe 205 

Katherine Anne Porter : NOTES ON WRITING 


BERLIN, December, 1931. From a letter to G. 
... I can't tell you what gives true intensity, but I know it when I find it, 
even in my own work there perhaps first of all. It is not a matter of how 
you feel, at any one moment, certainly not at the moment of writing. A 
calculated coldness is the best mood for that, most often. Feeling is more 
than mood, it is a whole way of being, it is the nature you are born with, you 
cannot invent it. The question is, how to convey a sense of whatever is 
there, as feeling, within you, to the reader; and that is a problem of technical 
expertness. I can't tell you how to go about getting this technique either, for 
that also is an internal matter, if it is to have any value beyond a kind of 
juggling or tight rope walking. You'll know it when you have it, and you 
will finally be able to depend upon it somewhat. But for myself, unless my 
material, my feelings and my problem in each new piece of work are not 
well ahead of my technical skill at that moment, I should distrust the whole 
thing. When virtuosity gets the upper hand of your theme, or is better than 
your idea, it is time to quit. Be bold, and try not to fall in love with your 

206 The Creative Process 

faults. Don't be so afraid of giving yourself away either, for if you write, 
you must. And if you can't face that, better not write. 

Paris, Fall 1936 

Perhaps in time I shall learn to live more deeply and consistently in that 
undistracted center of being where the will does not intrude, and the sense 
of time passing is lost, or has no power over the imagination. Of the three 
dimensions of time, only the past is "real" in the absolute sense that it has 
occurred, the future is only a concept, and the present is that fateful split 
second in which all action takes place. One of the most disturbing habits of 
the human mind is its willful and destructive forgetting of whatever in it 
past does not flatter or confirm its present point of view. I must very often 
refer far back in time to seek the meaning or explanation of today's smallest 
event, and I have long since lost the power to be astonished at what I find 
there. This constant exercise of memory seems to be the chief occupation 
of my mind, and all my experience seems to be simply memory, with con- 
tinuity, marginal notes, constant revision and comparison of one thing with 
another. Now and again thousands of memories converge, harmonize, ar- 
range themselves around a central idea in a coherent form, and I write a 
story. I keep notes and journals only because I write a great deal, and the 
habit of writing helps me to arrange, annotate, stow away conveniently the 
references I may need later. Yet when I begin a story, I can never work in 
any of those promising paragraphs, those apt phrases, those small turns of 
anecdote I had believed would be so valuable. I must know a story "by heart" 
and I must write from memory. Certain writing friends whose judgments 
I admire, have told me I lack detail, exact observation of the physical world, 
my people hardly ever have features, or not enough that they live in 
empty houses, etcetera. At one time, I was so impressed by this criticism, 
I used to sit on a camp stool before a landscape and note down literally 
every object, every color, form, stick and stone before my eyes. But when I 
remembered that landscape, it was quite simply not in those terms that I 
remembered it, and it was no good pretending I did, and no good attempt- 
ing to describe it because it got in the way of what I was really trying to tell. 
I was brought up with horses, I have harnessed, saddled, driven and ridden 
many a horse, but to this day I do not know the names for the different 
parts of a harness. I have often thought I would learn them and write them 
down in a note book. But to what end? I have two large cabinets full of 
notes already. 

From "Notes on Writing, from the Journal of Katherine Anne Porter," by Katherine Anne 
Porter in New Directions 1940, edited by James Laughlin. By permission of the author and the 
publishers: New Directions, 1940, Norfolk, Connecticut 

Katherine Anne Porter 207 

Friedrich Nietzsche : COMPOSITIONOFTHUS 



WOULD now like to tell you the history of my Zarathustra. Its fundamental 
conception, the idea of Eternal Recurrence, the highest formula of affirma- 
tion that can ever be attained, belongs to August, 1881. 1 made a hasty note of 
it on a sheet of paper, with the postscript: "Six thousand feet beyond man 
and time." That day I was walking through the woods beside Lake Silva- 
plana; I halted not far from Surlei, beside a huge, towering, pyramidal 
rock. It was there that the idea came to me. If I count back two months 
previous to this day, I can discover a warning sign in the form of an abrupt 
and profoundly decisive change in my tastes more especially in music. Per- 
haps the whole of Zarathustra may be classified as music I am sure that 
one of the conditions of its production was a renaissance in me of the art of 
hearing. In Recoaro, a little mountain watering-place near Vicenza, where 
I spent the spring of 1881, 1, together with my friend and maestro, Peter 
Gast (another who had been reborn), discovered that the phoenix bird of 
music hovered over us, decked in more beautiful and brilliant plumage 
than it had ever before exhibited. If, therefore, I reckon from that day to 

208 The Creative Process 

the sudden birth of the book, amid the most unlikely circumstances, in 
February, 1883, its last part, from which I quoted a few lines in my preface, 
was finished exactly during the hallowed hour of Richard Wagner's death 
in Venice, it would appear that the period of gestation was eighteen 
months. This period of exactly eighteen months might suggest, at least to 
Buddhists, that I am in reality a female elephant. The interval was devoted 
to the Gaya Scienza, which has a hundred indications of the approach of 
something unparalleled; its conclusion shows the beginning of Zarathustra, 
since it presents Zarathustra' s fundamental thought in the last aphorism but 
one of the fourth book. To this interval also belongs that Hymn to Life (for 
a mixed choir and orchestra), the score of which was published in Leipzig 
two years ago by E. W. Fritsch. Perhaps it is no small indication of my 
spiritual state during this year, when the essentially yea-saying pathos, 
which I call the tragic pathos, filled my soul to the brim. 

. . . During the following winter, I was living not far from Genoa on that 
pleasant peaceful Gulf of Rapallo, which cuts inland between Chiavari and 
Cape Porto Fino. I was not in the best of health; the winter was cold and 
exceptionally rainy; and my small albergo was so close to shore that the noise 
of a rough sea rendered sleep impossible. These circumstances were the very 
reverse of favorable; and yet, despite them, and as if in proof of my theory 
that everything decisive arises as the result of opposition, it was during this 
very winter and amid these unfavorable circumstances that my Zarathustra 
was born. In the morning I used to start out in a southerly direction on the 
glorious road to Zoagli, which rises up through a forest of pines and gives 
one a view far out to sea. In the afternoon, whenever my health permitted, 
I would walk around the whole bay from Santa Margherita to beyond 
Porto Fino. This spot and the country around it is the more firmly en- 
shrined in my affections because it was so dearly loved by the Emperor 
Frederick III. In the fall of 1886 1 happened to be there again when he was 
revisiting this small forgotten world of happiness for the last time. It was 
on these two roads that all Zarathustra, and particularly Zarathustra himself 
as a type, came to me perhaps I should rather say invaded me 

Can any one at the end of this nineteenth century possibly have any dis- 
tinct notion of what poets of a more vigorous period meant by inspiration ? 
If not, I should like to describe it. Provided one has the slightest remnant 
of superstition left, one can hardly reject completely the idea that one is the 
mere incarnation, or mouthpiece, or medium of some almighty power. The 
notion of revelation describes the condition quite simply; by which I mean 
that something profoundly convulsive and disturbing suddenly becomes 
visible and audible with indescribable definiteness and exactness. One 
hears one d oes no t seek; one takes one does not ask who gives : a thought 
flashes out, like lighting, inevitably without hesitation I have never had 

Friedrich Nietzsche 209 

any choice about it. There is an ecstasy whose terrific tension is sometimes 
released by a flood of tears, during which one's progress varies from in- 
voluntary impetuosity to involuntary slowness. There is the feeling that 
one is utterly out of hand, with the most distinct consciousness of an in- 
finitude of shuddering thrills that pass through one from head to foot; 
there is a profound happiness in which the most painful and gloomy feel- 
ings are not discordant in effect, but are required as necessary colors in this 
overflow of light. There is an instinct for rhythmic relations which em- 
braces an entire world of forms {length, the need for a widely extended 
rhythm, is almost a measure of the force of inspiration, a sort of counterpart 
to its pressure and tension). Everything occurs quite without volition, as if 
in an eruption of freedom, independence, power and divinity. The spon- 
taneity of the images and similes is most remarkable; one loses all percep- 
tion of what is imagery and simile; everything offers itself as the most im- 
mediate, exact, and simple means of expression. If I may recall a phrase 
of Zarathustra's, it actually seems as if the things themselves came to one, 
and offered themselves as similes. ("Here do all things come caressingly to 
thy discourse and flatter thee, for they would fain ride upon thy back. On 
every simile thou ridest here to every truth. Here fly open before thee all 
the speech and word shrines of existence, here all existence would become 
speech, here all Becoming would learn of thee how to speak.") This is my 
experience of inspiration. I have no doubt that I should have to go back 
millenniums to find another who could say to me: "It is mine also!" 

For a few weeks afterwards I lay ill in Genoa. Then followed a depressing 
spring in Rome, where I escaped with my life. It was not a pleasant ex- 
perience. This city, which I did not choose myself and which is of all places 
the most unsuited to the author of Zarathustra, weighed heavily upon my 
spirit About this time I was continually obsessed by a melody of ineffable 
sadness, whose refrain I recognized in the words, "dead through im- 
mortality.". . . In the summer, on my return to the sacred spot where the 
first thought of Zarathustra had flashed like lightning across my mind, I 
conceived the second part. Ten days sufficed. Neither for the second, the 
first, nor the third part, have I required a day longer. The following winter, 
beneath the halcyon sky of Nice, which then for the first time filled me with 
its brilliant light, I found the third Zarathustra and so completed the work. 
The whole composition had taken scarcely a year. Many hidden corners 
and heights in the country round Nice are hallowed for me by unforgettable 
moments. That decisive section, "Old and New Tables," was composed 
during the arduous ascent from the station to Eza, that wonderful Moorish 
eyrie. When my creative energy flowed most freely, my muscular activity 
was always greatest. The body is inspired: let us leave the "soul" out of 

2/0 The Creative Process 

consideration. I might often have been seen dancing; I used to walk through 
the hills for seven or eight hours on end without a hint of fatigue. I slept 
well, laughed a good deal I was perfectly vigorous and patient. 

Translated by Clifton P. Fadiman 

From Ecce Homo, by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Clifton P. Fadiman. By permission of 
the publishers: Random House, Inc., New York City. 

Friedrich Nietzsche 211 

Morton Prince : SUBCONSCIOUS 


,N DREAMS, then, or, as we should strictly limit ourselves for the present to 
saying, in certain dreams, there are, as Freud first showed, two processes; 
one is the conscious dream, the other is a subconscious process which is the 
actuated residuum of a previous experience and determines the dream.* It 
would be going beyond the scope of our subject to enter into a full exposition 
of this interpretation at this time and I must refer you for a discussion of 
the dream problem to works devoted to the subject. 

We have not, of course, touched the further problem of the How: how 
a subconscious intelligence induces a conscious dream which is not an 
emergence of the elements of that intelligence into self-consciousness, but 
a symbolization of them. This is a problem which still awaits solution. 

* It must not be assumed that all dreams are determined by a subconscious process or that all 
are symbolic. On the contrary, from evidence in hand, there is reason to believe that some 
dreams have substantially the same mechanism as waking imagination subject to the limita- 
tions imposed by the existing dissociation of consciousness during sleep. Just as, in the waking 
state, thoughts may or may not be determined by subconscious processes, so in the sleeping 
state. We know too little about the mechanisms of thought to draw wide generalizations or to 

2/2 The Creative Process 

From certain data at hand it seems likely that so far as concerns the hallu- 
cinatory perceptual elements of a dream they can be accounted for as the 
emergence of the secondary images pertaining to the subconscious "ideas." 

The following observation is an example of subconscious versification and 
also of constructive imagination. It also, I think, gives an insight into the 
character and content of the underlying process which constructs a dream. 
I give the observation in the subject's own words: 

"I woke suddenly some time between three and four in the morning. I 
was perfectly wide awake and conscious of my surroundings but for a short 
time perhaps two or three minutes I could not move, and I saw this 
vision which I recognized as such. 

"The end of my room seemed to have disappeared, and I looked out into 
boundless space. It looked misty but bright, as if the sun was shining behind 
a light fog. There were shifting wisps of fog blowing lightly about, and 
these wisps seemed to gather into the forms of a man and a woman. The 
figures were perfectly clear and lifelike I recognized them both. The man 
was dressed in dark every-day clothes, the woman in rather flowing black; 
her face was partly hidden on his breast; one arm was laid around his neck; 
both his arms were around her, and he was looking down at her, smiling 
very tenderly. They seemed to be surrounded by a sort of rosy atmosphere; 
a large, very bright star was above their heads not in the heavens, but just 
over them; tall rose bushes heavy with red roses in full bloom grew up 
about them, and the falling petals were heaped up around their feet. Then 
the man bent his head and kissed her. 

"The vision was extraordinarily clear and I thought I would write it 
down at once. I turned on the light by my bedside, took pencil and paper 
lying there and wrote, as I supposed, practically what I have written here. 
I then got up, was up some minutes, went back to bed, and after a while to 
sleep. The clock struck four soon after getting back into bed. I do not think 
I experienced any emotion at the moment of seeing the vision, but after 
writing it down I did. 

"The next morning I picked up the paper to read over what I had written 
and was amazed at the language and the rhythm. This is what I had written : 

" 'Last night I waked from sleep quite suddenly, 

And though my brain was clear my limbs were tranced. 
Beyond the walls of my familiar room 

I gazed outward into luminous space. 
Before my staring eyes two forms took shape, 

Vague, shadowy, slowly gathering from the mists, 
Until I saw before me, youmy Love! 

And folded to your breast in close embrace 

Morton Prince 213 

Was she, that other, whom I may not name. 

A rosy light bathed you in waves of love; 
Above your heads there shone a glowing star; 

Red roses shed their leaves about your feet. 
And as I gazed with eyes that could not weep 

You bent your head and laid your lips on her. 
And my rent soul'. . . [Apparently unfinished.] 

"The thoughts were the same as my conscious thoughts had been the 
vision was well described but the language was entirely different from 
anything I had thought, and the writing expressed the emotion which I had 
not consciously experienced in seeing the vision, but which (I have since 
learned) I had felt during the dream, and which I did consciously feel 
after writing. When I wrote I meant simply to state the facts of the vision."** 

The subject was unable to give any explanation of the vision or of the 
composition of the verse. She rarely remembers her dreams and had no 
memory of any dream the night of this vision. By hypnotic procedure, how- 
ever, I was able to recover memories of a dream which occurred just before 
she woke up. It appeared that in the dream she was wandering in a great 
open space and saw this "picture in a thin mist. The mist seemed to blow 
apart" and disclosed the "picture" which was identical with the vision. At 
the climax of the dream picture the dreamer experienced an intense emotion 
well described in the verse by the unfinished phrase, "My rent soul. . ." The 
dreamer "shrieked, and fell on the ground on her face, and grew cold from 
head to foot and waked up." 

The vision after waking, then, was a repetition of a preceding dream 
vision and we may safely assume that it was fabricated by the same under- 
lying process which fabricated the dream, this process repeating itself after 

So far the phenomenon was one which is fairly common. Now when 
we come to examine the automatically written script we find it has a num- 
ber of significant characteristics, (i) It describes a conscious episode; (2) As 
a literary effort for one who is not a poetical writer it is fairly well written 
and probably quite as good verse as the subject can consciously write; (3) It 
expresses the mental attitude, sentiments and emotions experienced in the 
dream but not at the time of the vision. These had also been antecedent ex- 
periences; (4) Both the central ideas of the verse and the vision symbolically 
represented certain antecedent presentiments of the future; (5) The script 
gives of the vision an interpretation which was not consciously in mind at 
the moment of writing. 

** "For two or three days previously I had been trying to write some verses, and had been 
reading a good deal of poetry. I had been thinking in rhythm. I had also been under consid- 
erable nervous and emotional strain for some little time in reference to the facts portrayed in 
the verse." 

214 The Creative Process 


Now, inasmuch as these sentiments and interpretations were not in the 
conscious mind at the moment o writing, the script suggests that the process 
that wrote it was not simply a subconscious memory of the vision but the 
same process which fabricated the dream. Indeed, the phenomenon is open 
to the suspicion that this same process expresses the same ideas in verbal 
symbolism as a substitution for the hallucinatory symbolism. To determine 
this point, an effort was made to recover by technical methods memories of 
this process; that is to determine what wrote the verse and by what sort of a 
process. The following was brought out : 

1. The script was written automatically. The subject thought she was 
writing certain words and expressing certain thoughts and did not perceive 
that she was writing different words. "Something semed to prevent her 
seeing the words she wrote." There were two trains of "thought." 

2. The "thoughts" of the verse were in her "subconscious mind."*** 
These "thoughts" (also described as "words") were not logically arranged 
or as written in the verse, but "sort of tumbled together mixed up a 
little." "They were not like the thoughts one thinks in composing a verse." 
There did not seem to be any attempt at selection from the thoughts or 
words. No evidence could be elicited to show that the composing was done 

3. Concurrently with these subconscious, mixed-up thoughts coconscious 
"images" of the words of the verse came just at the moment of writing them 
down. The images were bright, printed words. Sometimes one or two 
words would come at a time and sometimes a whole line. 

In other words all happened as if there was a deeper underlying process 
which did the composing and from this process certain thoughts without 
logical order emerged to form a subconscious stream and after the com- 
posing was done the words of the verse emerged as coconscious images as 
they were to be written. This underlying process, then, "automatically" did 
the writing and the composing. Hence it seemed to the subject even when 
remembering in hypnosis the subconscious thoughts and images that both 
were done unconsciously. 

As to whether this underlying process was the same as that which 
fabricated the dream and the hallucination, the evidence, albeit circum- 
stantial, would seem to render this almost certain. In the first place the 
verse was only a poetical arrangement of the subconscious thoughts dis- 
closed; the vision was an obvious symbolic expression or visual representa- 
tion of the same thoughts (that is, of course, of those concerned with the 
subject matter of the vision). The only difference would seem to be in the 
form of the expression verbal and visual imagery respectively. In the 
second place the vision was an exact repetition of the dream vision. It is not 

*** By this is meant "thoughts" of which she was not aware. . . . 

Morton Prince 2/5 

at all rare to find certain phenomena of dreams (visual, motor, sensory, etc.) 
repeating themselves after waking. This can only be explained by the sub- 
conscious repetition of the dream process. Consequently we are compelled 
to infer the same subconscious process underlying the dream- vision. More 
than this, it was possible to trace these thoughts back to antecedent ex- 
periences of the dreamer, so that in the last analysis the dream-vision, 
waking-vision, and poetical expression of the vision could be related with 
almost certainty to the same antecedent experiences as the causal factors. 

Certain conclusions then seem compulsory: underlying the dream, vision, 
and script was a subconscious process in which the fundamental factors 
were the same. As this process showed itself capable of poetical composition, 
constructive imagination, volition, memory, and affectivity it was a sub- 
conscious intelligence. 

From "Subconscious Intelligence Underlying Dreams," by Morton Prince in The Unconscious. 
By permission of Morton P. Prince and the publishers: The Macmillan Company, 1915, New 
York City. 

2/6 The Creative Process 

Carl Gustav Jung : PSYCHOLOGY AND 



,T is OBVIOUS enough that psychology, being the study of psychic processes, 
can be brought to bear upon the study of literature, for the human psyche is 
the womb of all the sciences and arts. We may expect psychological research, 
on the one hand, to explain the formation of a work of art, and on the other 
to reveal the factors that make a person artistically creative. The psychologist 
is thus faced with two separate and distinct tasks, and must approach them 
In radically different ways. 

In the case of the work of art we have to deal with a product of compli- 
cated psychic activities but a product that is apparently intentional and 
consciously shaped. In the case of the artist we must deal with the psychic 
apparatus itself. In the first instance we must attempt the psychological 
analysis of a definitely circumscribed and concrete artistic achievement, 
while in the second we must analyse the living and creative human being as 
a unique personality. Although these two undertakings are closely related 
and even interdependent, neither of them can yield the explanations that 
are sought by the other. It is of course possible to draw inferences about the 

Carl Gustav Jung 277 

artist from the work of art, and vice versa, but these inferences are never 
conclusive. At best they are probable surmises or lucky guesses. A knowl- 
edge of Goethe's particular relation to his mother throws some light upon 
Faust's exclamation : "The mothers mothers how very strange it sounds! " 
But it does not enable us to see how the attachment to his mother could 
produce the Faust drama itself, however unmistakably we sense in the man 
Goethe a deep connection between the two. Nor are we more successful in 
reasoning in the reverse direction. There is nothing in The Nibelungenring 
that would enable us to recognize or definitely infer the fact that Wagner 
occasionally liked to wear womanish clothes, though hidden connections 
exist between the heroic masculine world of the Nibelungs and a certain 
pathological effeminacy in the man Wagner. 

The present state of development of psychology does not allow us to 
establish those rigorous causal connections which we expect of a science. 
It is only in the realm of the psycho-physiological instincts and reflexes that 
we can confidently operate with the idea of causality. From the point where 
psychic life begins that is, at a level of greater complexity the psy- 
chologist must content himself with more or less widely ranging descrip- 
tions of happenings and with the vivid portrayal of the warp and weft of 
the mind in all its amazing intricacy. In doing this, he must refrain from 
designating any one psychic process, taken by itself, as "necessary." Were 
this not the state of affairs, and could the psychologist be relied upon to 
uncover the causal connections within a work of art and in the process of 
artistic creation, he would leave the study of art no ground to stand on and 
would reduce it to a special branch of his own science. The psychologist, to 
be sure, may never abandon his claim to investigate and establish causal 
relations in complicated psychic events. To do so would be to deny psy- 
chology the right to exist. Yet he can never make good this claim in the 
fullest sense, because the creative aspect of life which finds its clearest ex- 
pression in art baffles all attempts at rational formulation. Any reaction to 
stimulus may be causally explained; but the creative act, which is the ab- 
solute antithesis of mere reaction, will for ever elude the human under- 
standing. It can only be described in its manifestations; it can be obscurely 
sensed, but never wholly grasped. Psychology and the study of art will 
always have to turn to one another for help, and the one will not invalidate 
the other. It is an important principle of psychology that psychic events are 
derivable. It is a principle in the study of art that a psychic product is some- 
thing in and for itself whether the work of art or the artist himself is in 
question. Both principles are valid in spite of their relativity. 

218 The Creative Process 


There is a fundamental difference of approach between the psychologist's 
examination of a literary work, and that of the literary critic. What is of 
decisive importance and value for the latter may be quite irrelevant for the 
former. Literary products of highly dubious merit are often of the greatest 
interest to the psychologist. For instance, the so-called "psychological novel" 
is by no means as rewarding for the psychologist as the literary-minded sup- 
pose. Considered as a whole such a novel explains itself. It has done its 
own work of psychological interpretation, and the psychologist can at 
most criticize or enlarge upon this. The important question as to how a 
particular author came to write a particular novel is of course left unan- 
swered, but I wish to reserve this general problem for the second part of 
my essay. 

The novels which are most fruitful for the psychologist are those in which 
the author has not already given a psychological interpretation of his char- 
acters, and which therefore leave room for analysis and explanation, or even 
invite it by their mode of presentation. Good examples of this kind of 
writing are the novels of Benoit, and English fiction in the manner of 
Rider Haggard, including the vein exploited by Conan Doyle which yields 
that most cherished article of mass-production, the detective story. Melville's 
Moby Dic\, which I consider the greatest American novel, also comes 
within this class of writings. An exciting narrative that is apparently quite 
devoid of psychological exposition is just what interests the psychologist 
most of all. Such a tale is built upon a groundwork of implicit psychological 
assumptions, and, in the measure that the author is unconscious of them, 
they reveal themselves, pure and unalloyed, to the critical discernment. In 
the psychological novel, on the other hand, the author himself attempts to 
reshape his material so as to raise it from the level of crude contingency to 
that of psychological exposition and illumination a procedure which all 
too often clouds the psychological significance of the work or hides it from 
view. It is precisely to novels of this sort that the layman goes for "psy- 
chology"; while it is novels of the other kind that challenge the psychologist, 
for he alone can give them deeper meaning. 

I have been speaking in terms of the novel, but I am dealing with a psy- 
chological fact which is not restricted to this particular form of literary art. 
We meet with it in the works of the poets as well, and are confronted with 
it when we compare the first and second parts of the Faust drama. The love- 
tragedy of Gretchen explains itself; there is nothing that the psychologist 
can add to it that the poet has not already said in better words. The second 
part, on the other hand, calls for explanation. The prodigious richness of 
the imaginative material has so overtaxed the poet's formative powers that 
nothing is self-explanatory and every verse adds to the reader's need of an 

Carl Gustav Jung 219 

interpretation. The two parts o Faust illustrate by way of extremes this 
psychological distinction between works of literature. 

In order to emphasize the distinction, I will call the one mode of artistic 
creation psychological, and the other visionary. The psychological mode 
deals with materials drawn from the realm of human consciousness for 
instance, with the lessons of life, with emotional shocks, the experience of 
passion and the crises of human destiny in general all of which go to make 
up the conscious life of man, and his feeling life in particular. This material 
is psychically assimilated by the poet, raised from the commonplace to the 
level of poetic experience, and given an expression which forces the reader 
to greater clarity and depth of human insight by bringing fully into his 
consciousness what he ordinarily evades and overlooks or senses only with 
a feeling of dull discomfort. The poet's work is an interpretation and illu- 
mination of the contents of consciousness, of the ineluctable experiences of 
human life with its eternally recurrent sorrow and joy. He leaves nothing 
over for the psychologist, unless, indeed, we expect the latter to expound the 
reasons for which Faust falls in love with Gretchen, or which drive 
Gretchen to murder her child! Such themes go to make up the lot of human- 
kind; they repeat themselves millions of times and are responsible for the 
monotony of the police-court and of the penal code. No obscurity whatever 
surrounds them, for they fully explain themselves. 

Countless literary works belong to this class: the many novels dealing 
with love, the environment, the family, crime and society, as well as didactic 
poetry, the larger number of lyrics, and the drama, both tragic and comic. 
Whatever its particular form may be, the psychological work of art always 
takes its materials from the vast realm of conscious human experience 
from the vivid foreground of life, we might say. I have called this mode of 
artistic creation psychological because in its activity it nowhere transcends 
the bounds of psychological intelligibility. Everything that it embraces the 
experience as well as its artistic expression belongs to the realm of the un- 
derstandable. Even the basic experiences themselves, though non-rational, 
have nothing strange about them; on the contrary, they are that which has 
been known from the beginning of time passion and its fated outcome, 
man's subjection to the turns of destiny, eternal nature with its beauty and 
its horror. 

The profound difference between the first and second parts of Faust 
marks the difference between the psychological and the visionary modes of 
artistic creation. The latter reverses all the conditions of the former. The 
experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer 
familiar. It is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinter- 
land of man's mind that suggests the abyss of time separating us from 
pre-human ages, or evokes a super-human world of contrasting light and 

22a The Creative Process 

darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man's understand- 
ing, and to which he is therefore in danger o succumbing. The value and 
the force of the experience are given by its enormity. It arises from timeless 
depths; it is foreign and cold, many-sided, demonic and grotesque. A 
grimly ridiculous sample of the eternal chaos a crimen laesae majestatis 
humanae, to use Nietzsche's words it bursts asunder our human standards 
of value and of aesthetic form. The disturbing vision of monstrous and 
meaningless happenings that in every way exceed the grasp of human feel- 
ing and comprehension makes quite other demands upon the powers of the 
artist than do the experiences of the foreground of life. These never rend 
the curtain that veils the cosmos; they never transcend the bounds of the 
humanly possible, and for this reason are readily shaped to the demands of 
art, no matter how great a shock to the individual they may be. But the 
primordial experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which 
is painted the picture of an ordered world, and allow a glimpse into the 
unfathomed abyss of what has not yet become. Is it a vision of other worlds, 
or of the obscuration of the spirit, or of the beginning of things before the 
age of man, or of the unborn generations of the future? We cannot say that 
it is any or none of these. 

Shaping re-shaping 

The eternal spirit's eternal pastime. 

We find such vision in The Shepherd of Hernias, in Dante, in the second 
part of Faust, in Nietzsche's Dionysian exuberance, in Wagner's Nibelun- 
genring, in Spitteler's Olympischer Fruhling, in the poetry of William 
Blake, in the Ipnerotomachia of the monk Francesco Colonna, and in Jacob 
Boehme's philosophic and poetic stammerings. In a more restricted and 
specific way, the primordial experience furnishes material for Rider Hag- 
gard in the fiction-cycle that turns upon She, and it does the same for Benoit, 
chiefly in UAtlantide, for Kubin in Die andere Seite, for Meyrink in Das 
grune Gesicht a book whose importance we should not undervalue for 
Goetz in Das Reich ohne Raum, and for Barlach in Der tote Tag. This list 
might be greatly extended. 

In dealing with the psychological mode of artistic creation, we never need 
ask ourselves what the material consists of or what it means. But this ques- 
tion forces itself upon us as soon as we come to the visionary mode of crea- 
tion. We are astonished, taken aback, confused, put on our guard or even 
disgusted and we demand commentaries and explanations. We are re- 
minded in nothing of everyday, human life, but rather of dreams, night- 
time fears and the dark recesses of the mind that we sometimes sense with 
misgiving. The reading public for the most part repudiates this kind of 
writing unless, indeed, it is coarsely sensational- and even the literary 

Carl Gustav Jung 221 

critic feels embarrassed by it. It is true that Dante and Wagner have 
smoothed the approach to it. The visionary experience is cloaked, in Dante's 
case, by the introduction of historical facts, and, in that of Wagner, by 
mythological events so that history and mythology are sometimes taken to 
be the materials with which these poets worked. But with neither of them 
does the moving force and the deeper significance lie there. For both it is 
contained in the visionary experience. Rider Haggard, pardonably enough, 
is generally held to be a mere inventor of fiction. Yet even with him the 
story is primarily a means of giving expression to significant material. How- 
ever much the tale may seem to overgrow the content, the latter outweighs 
the former in importance. 

The obscurity as to the sources of the material in visionary creation is 
very strange, and the exact opposite of what we find in the psychological 
mode of creation. We are even led to suspect that this obscurity is not 
unintentional. We are naturally inclined to suppose and Freudian psy- 
chology encourages us to do so that some highly personal experience un- 
derlies this grotesque darkness. We hope thus to explain these strange 
glimpses of chaos and to understand why it sometimes seems as though the 
poet had intentionally concealed his basic experience from us. It is only a 
step from this way of looking at the matter to the statement that we are 
here dealing with a pathological and neurotic art a step which is justified 
in so far as the material of the visionary creator shows certain traits that we 
find in the fantasies of the insane. The converse also is true; we often dis- 
cover in the mental output of psychotic persons a wealth of meaning that 
we should expect rather from the works of a genius. The psychologist who 
follows Freud will of course be inclined to take the writings in question as 
a problem in pathology. On the assumption that an intimate, personal ex- 
perience underlies what I call the "primordial vision" an experience, that 
is to say, which cannot be accepted by the conscious outlook he will try to 
account for the curious images of the vision by calling them cover-figures 
and by supposing that they represent an attempted concealment of the basic 
experience. This, according to his view, might be an experience in love 
which is morally or aesthetically incompatible with the personality as a 
whole or at least with certain fictions of the conscious mind. In order that 
the poet, through his ego, might repress this experience and make it unrec- 
ognizable (unconscious), the whole arsenal of a pathological fantasy was 
brought into action. Moreover, this attempt to replace reality by fiction, 
being unsatisfactory, must be repeated in a long series of creative embodi- 
ments. This would explain the proliferation of imaginative forms, all mon- 
strous, demonic, grotesque and perverse. On the one hand they are sub- 
stitutes for the unacceptable experience, and on the other they help to 
conceal it. 

222 The Creative Process 

Although a discussion of the poet's personality and psychic disposition 
belongs strictly to the second part of my essay, I cannot avoid taking up in 
the present connection the Freudian view of the visionary work of art. For 
one thing, it has aroused considerable attention. And then it is the only 
well-known attempt that has been made to give a "scientific*' explanation 
of the sources of the visionary material or to formulate a theory of the 
psychic processes that underlie this curious mode of artistic creation. I as- 
sume that my own view of the question is not well known or generally 
understood. With this preliminary remark, I will now try to present it 

If we insist on deriving the vision from a personal experience, we must 
treat the former as something secondary as a mere substitute for reality. 
The result is that we strip the vision of its primordial quality and take it as 
nothing but a symptom. The pregnant chaos then shrinks to the propor- 
tions of a psychic disturbance. With this account of the matter we feel 
reassured and turn again to our picture of a well-ordered cosmos. Since we 
are practical and reasonable, we do not expect the cosmos to be perfect; we 
accept these unavoidable imperfections which we call abnormalities and 
diseases, and we take it for granted that human nature is not exempt from 
them. The frightening revelation of abysses that defy the human under- 
standing is dismissed as illusion, and the poet is regarded as a victim and 
perpetrator of deception. Even to the poet, his primordial experience was 
"human all too human," to such a degree that he could not face its mean- 
ing but had to conceal it from himself. 

We shall do well, I think, to make fully explicit all the implications of that 
way of accounting for artistic creation which consists in reducing it to per- 
sonal factors. We should see clearly where it leads. The truth is that it takes 
us away from the psychological study of the work of art, and confronts us 
with the psychic disposition of the poet himself. That the latter presents an 
important problem is not to be denied, but the work of art is something in 
its own right, and may not be conjured away. The question of the signifi- 
cance to the poet of his own creative work of his regarding it as a trifle, 
as a screen, as a source of suffering or as an achievement does not concern 
us at the moment, our task being to interpret the work of art psychologically. 
For this undertaking it is essential that we give serious consideration to the 
basic experience that underlies it namely, to the vision. We must take it 
at least as seriously as we do the experiences that underlie the psychological 
mode of artistic creation, and no one doubts that they are both real and seri- 
ous. It looks, indeed, as if the visionary experience were something quite 
apart from the ordinary lot of man, and for this reason we have difficulty 
in believing that it is real. It has about it an unfortunate suggestion of ob- 
scure metaphysics and of occultism, so that we feel called upon to intervene 

Carl Gustav Jung 223 

in the name of a well-intentioned reasonableness. Our conclusion is that it 
would be better not to take such things too seriously, lest the world revert 
again to a benighted superstition. We may, of course, have a predilection 
for the occult; but ordinarily we dismiss the visionary experience as the out- 
come of a rich fantasy or of a poetic mood that is to say, as a kind of poetic 
licence psychologically understood. Certain of the poets encourage this inter- 
pretation in order to put a wholesome distance between themselves and their 
work. Spitteler, for example, stoutly maintained that it was one and the 
same whether the poet sang of an Olympian spring or to the theme: "May 
is here!" The truth is that poets are human beings, and that what a poet has 
to say about his work is often far from being the most illuminating word on 
the subject. What is required of us, then, is nothing less than to defend the 
importance of the visionary experience against the poet himself. 

It cannot be denied that we catch the reverberations of an initial love- 
experience in The Shepherd of Hermas, in the Divine Comedy and in the 
Faust drama an experience which is completed and fulfilled by the vision. 
There is no ground for the assumption that the second part of Faust repudi- 
ates or conceals the normal, human experience of the first part, nor are we 
justified in supposing that Goethe was normal at the time when he wrote 
Part I, but in a neurotic state of mind when he composed Part II. Hernias, 
Dante and Goethe can be taken as three steps in a sequence covering nearly 
two thousand years of human development, and in each of them we find 
the personal love-episode not only connected with the weightier visionary 
experience, but frankly subordinated to it. On the strength of this evidence 
which is furnished by the work of art itself and which throws out of court 
the question of the poet's particular psychic disposition, we must admit that 
the vision represents a deeper and more impressive experience than human 
passion. In works of art of this nature and we must never confuse them 
with the artist as a person we cannot doubt that the vision is a genuine, 
primordial experience, regardless of what reason-mongers may say. The 
vision is not something derived or secondary, and it is not a symptom of 
something else. It is true symbolic expression that is, the expression of 
something existent in its own right, but imperfectly known. The love- 
episode is a real experience really suffered, and the same statement applies 
to the vision. We need not try to determine whether the content of the vision 
is of a physical, psychic or metaphysical nature. In itself it has psychic reality, 
and this is no less real than physical reality. Human passion falls within the 
sphere of conscious experience, while the subject of the vision lies beyond 
it. Through our feelings we experience the known, but our intuitions point 
to things that are unknown and hidden that by their very nature are 
secret. If ever they become conscious, they are intentionally kept back and 
concealed, for which reason they have been regarded from earliest times 

224 The Creative Process 

as mysterious, uncanny and deceptive. They are hidden from the scrutiny 
of man, and he also hides himself from them out of deisidaemonia. He pro- 
tects himself with the shield of science and the armour of reason. His en- 
lightenment is born of fear; in the day-time he believes in an ordered 
cosmos, and he tries to maintain this faith against the fear of chaos that 
besets him by night. What if there were some living force whose sphere 
of action lies beyond our world of every day ? Are there human needs that 
are dangerous and unavoidable ? Is there something more purposeful than 
electrons? Do we delude ourselves in thinking that we possess and com- 
mand our own souls? And is that which science calls the "psyche" not 
merely a question-mark arbitrarily confined within the skull, but rather a 
door that opens upon the human world from a world beyond, now and 
again allowing strange and unseizable potencies to act upon man and to 
remove him, as if upon the wings of the night, from the level of common 
humanity to that of a more than personal vocation? When we consider the 
visionary mode of artistic creation, it even seems as if the love-episode had 
served as a mere release as if the personal experience were nothing but 
the prelude to the all-important "divine comedy." 

It is not alone the creator of this kind of art who is in touch with the night- 
side of life, but the seers, prophets, leaders and enlighteners also. However 
dark this nocturnal world may be, it is not wholly unfamiliar. Man has 
known of it from time immemorial here, there, and everywhere; for 
primitive man today it is an unquestionable part of his picture of the cosmos. 
It is only we who have repudiated it because of our fear of superstition and 
metaphysics, and because we strive to construct a conscious world that is 
safe and manageable in that natural law holds in it the place of statute law 
in a commonwealth. Yet, even in our midst, the poet now and then catches 
sight of the figures that people the night-world the spirits, demons and 
gods. He knows that a purposiveness out-reaching human ends is the life- 
giving secret for man; he has a presentiment of incomprehensible happen- 
ings in the pleroma. In short, he sees something of that psychic world that 
strikes terror into the savage and the barbarian. 

From the very first beginnings of human society onward man's efforts to 
give his vague intimations a binding form have left their traces. Even in the 
Rhodesian cliff-drawings of the Old Stone Age there appears, side by side 
with the most amazingly lifelike representations of animals, an abstract 
pattern a double cross contained in a circle. This design has turned up in 
every cultural region, more or less, and we find it today not only in Chris- 
tian churches, but in Tibetan monasteries as well. It is the so-called sun- 
wheel, and as it dates from a time when no one had thought of wheels as a 
mechanical device, it cannot have had its source in any experience of the 
external world. It is rather a symbol that stands for a psychic happening; 

Carl Gustav Jung 225 

it covers an experience of the inner world, and is no doubt as lifelike a repre- 
sentation as the famous rhinoceros with the tick-birds on its back. There has 
never been a primitive culture that did not possess a system of secret teach- 
ing, and in many cultures this system is highly developed. The men's coun- 
cils and the totem-clans preserve this teaching about hidden things that lie 
apart from man's daytime existence things which, from primeval times, 
have always constituted his most vital experiences. Knowledge about them 
is handed on to younger men in the rites of initiation. The mysteries of the 
Graeco-Roman world performed the same office, and the rich mythology 
of antiquity is a relic of such experiences in the earliest stages of human 

It is therefore to be expected of the poet that he will resort to mythology 
in order to give his experience its most fitting expression. It would be a 
serious mistake to suppose that he works with materials received at second- 
hand. The primordial experience is the source of his creativeness; it cannot 
be fathomed, and therefore requires mythological imagery to give it form. 
In itself it offers no words or images, for it is a vision seen "as in a glass, 
darkly." It is merely a deep presentiment that strives to find expression. It 
is like a whirlwind that seizes everything within reach and, by carrying it 
aloft, assumes a visible shape. Since the particular expression can never ex- 
haust the possibilities of the vision, but falls far short of it in richness of 
content, the poet must have at his disposal a huge store of materials if he 
is to communicate even a few of his intimations. What is more, he must 
resort to an imagery that is difficult to handle and full of contradictions in 
order to express the weird paradoxicality of his vision. Dante's presenti- 
ments are clothed in images that run the gamut of Heaven and Hell; Goethe 
must bring in the Blocksberg and the infernal regions of Greek antiquity; 
Wagner needs the whole body of Nordic myth; Nietzsche returns to the 
hieratic style and recreates the legendary seer of prehistoric times; Blake 
invents for himself indescribable figures, and Spitteler borrows old names 
for new creatures of the imagination. And no intermediate step is missing 
in the whole range from the ineffably sublime to the perversely grotesque. 

Psychology can do nothing towards the elucidation of this colourful 
imagery except bring together materials for comparison and offer a termi- 
nology for its discussion. According to this terminology, that which appears 
in the vision is the collective unconscious. We mean by collective uncon- 
scious, a certain psychic disposition shaped by the forces of heredity; from 
it consciousness has developed. In the physical structure of the body we find 
traces of earlier stages of evolution, and we may expect the human psyche 
also to conform in its make-up to the law of phylogeny. It is a fact that in 
eclipses of consciousness in dreams, narcotic states and cases of insanity 

226 The Creative Process 

there come to the surface psychic products or contents that show all the 
traits of primitive levels of psychic development. The images themselves 
are sometimes of such a primitive character that we might suppose them 
derived from ancient, esoteric teaching. Mythological themes clothed in 
modern dress also frequently appear. What is of particular importance for 
the study of literature in these manifestations of the collective unconscious 
is that they are compensatory to the conscious attitude. This is to say that 
they can bring a one-sided, abnormal, or dangerous state of consciousness 
into equilibrium in an apparently purposive way. In dreams we can see this 
process very clearly in its positive aspect. In cases of insanity the compensa- 
tory process is often perfectly obvious, but takes a negative form. There are 
persons, for instance, who have anxiously shut themselves off from all the 
world only to discover one day that their most intimate secrets are known 
and talked about by everyone. 

If we consider Goethe's Faust, and leave aside the possibility that it is com- 
pensatory to his own conscious attitude, the question that we must answer 
is this: In what relation does it stand to the conscious outlook of his time? 
Great poetry draws its strength from the life of mankind, and we com- 
pletely miss its meaning if we try to derive it from personal factors. When- 
ever the collective unconscious becomes a living experience and is brought 
to bear upon the conscious outlook of an age, this event is a creative act 
which is of importance to everyone living in that age. A work of art is pro- 
duced that contains what may truthfully be called a message to generations 
of men. So Faust touches something in the soul of every German. So also 
Dante's fame is immortal, while The Shepherd of Hennas just failed of 
inclusion in the New Testament canon. Every period has its bias, its par- 
ticular prejudice and its psychic ailment. An epoch is like an individual; 
it has its own limitations of conscious outlook, and therefore requires a 
compensatory adjustment. This is effected by the collective unconscious in 
that a poet, a seer or a leader allows himself to be guided by the unexpressed 
desire of his times and shows the way, by word or deed, to the attainment 
of that which everyone blindly craves and expects whether this attainment 
results in good or evil, the healing of an epoch or its destruction. 

It is always dangerous to speak of one's own times, because what is at 
stake in the present is too vast for comprehension. A few hints must there- 
fore suffice. Francesco Colonna's book is cast in the form of a dream, and is 
the apotheosis of natural love taken as a human relation; without counte- 
nancing a wild indulgence of the senses, he leaves completely aside the 
Christian sacrament of marriage. The book was written in 1453. Rider 
Haggard, whose life coincides with the flowering-time of the Victorian era, 
takes up this subject and deals with it in his own way; he does not cast it in 

Carl Gustav Jung 227 

the form of a dream, but allows us to feel the tension of moral conflict. 
Goethe weaves the theme of Gretchen-Helen-Mater Gloriosa like a red 
thread into the colourful tapestry of Faust. Nietzsche proclaims the death 
of God, and Spitteler transforms the waxing and waning of the gods into a 
myth of the seasons. Whatever his importance, each of these poets speaks 
with the voice of thousands and ten thousands, foretelling changes in the 
conscious outlook of his time. 


Creativeness, like the freedom of the will, contains a secret. The psycholo- 
gist can describe both these manifestations as processes, but he can find no 
solution of the philosophical problems they offer. Creative man is a riddle 
that we may try to answer in various ways, but always in vain, a truth that 
has not prevented modern psychology from turning now and again to the 
question of the artist and his art. Freud thought that he had found a key 
in his procedure of deriving the work of art from the personal experiences of 
the artist. It is true that certain possibilities lay in this direction, for it was 
conceivable that a work of art, no less than a neurosis, might be traced back 
to those knots in psychic life that we call the complexes. It was Freud's 
great discovery that neuroses have a causal origin in the psychic realm 
that they take their rise from emotional states and from real or imagined 
childhood experiences. Certain of his followers, like Rank and Stekel, have 
taken up related lines of enquiry and have achieved important results. It is 
undeniable that the poet's psychic disposition permeates his work root and 
branch. Nor is there anything new in the statement that personal factors 
largely influence the poet's choice and use of his materials. Credit, however, 
must certainly be given to the Freudian school for showing how far- 
reaching this influence is and in what curious ways it comes to expression. 
Freud takes the neurosis as a substitute for a direct means of gratification. 
He therefore regards it as something inappropriatea mistake, a dodge, an 
excuse, a voluntary blindness. To him it is essentially a shortcoming that 
should never have been. Since a neurosis, to all appearances, is nothing but 
a disturbance that is all the more irritating because it is without sense or 
meaning, few people will venture to say a good word for it. And a work of 
art is brought into questionable proximity with the neurosis when it is 
taken as something which can be analysed in terms of the poet's repres- 
sions. In a sense it finds itself in good company, for religion and philosophy 
are regarded in the same light by Freudian psychology. No objection can be 
raised if it is admitted that this approach amounts to nothing more than 
the elucidation of those personal determinants without which a work of 
art is unthinkable. But should the claim be made that such an analysis 

228 The Creative Process 

accounts for the work of art itself, then a categorical denial is called for. The 
personal idiosyncrasies that creep into a work of art are not essential; in 
fact, the more we have to cope with these peculiarities, the less is it a ques- 
tion of art. What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above 
the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet 
as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. The personal aspect is a limita- 
tion and even a sin in the realm of art. When a form of "art" is primarily 
personal it deserves to be treated as if it were a neurosis. There may be some 
validity in the idea held by the Freudian school that artists without excep- 
tion are narcissistic by which is meant that they are undeveloped persons 
with infantile and auto-erotic traits. The statement is only valid, however, 
for the artist as a person, and has nothing to do with the man as an artist. 
In his capacity of artist he is neither auto-erotic, nor hetero-erotic, nor erotic 
in any sense. He is objective and impersonal even inhuman for as an artist 
he is his work, and not a human being. 

Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes. 
On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other 
side he is an impersonal, creative process. Since as a human being he may 
be sound or morbid, we must look at his psychic make-up to find the deter- 
minants of his personality. But we can only understand him in his capacity 
of artist by looking at his creative achievement. We should make a sad mis- 
take if we tried to explain the mode of life of an English gentleman, a 
Prussian officer, or a cardinal in terms of personal factors. The gentleman, 
the officer and the cleric function as such in an impersonal role, and their 
psychic make-up is qualified by a peculiar objectivity. We must grant that 
the artist does not function in an official capacity the very opposite is nearer 
the truth. He nevertheless resembles the types I have named in one respect, 
for the specifically artistic disposition involves an overweight of collective 
psychic life as against the personal. Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes 
a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person 
endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to 
realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods 
and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is "man" in a higher sense 
he is "collective man" one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic 
life of mankind. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for 
him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for 
the ordinary human being. 

All this being so, it is not strange that the artist is an especially interesting 
case for the psychologist who uses an analytical method. The artist's life 
cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within 
himon the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfac- 
tion and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation 

Carl Gustav Jung 229 

which may go so far as to override every personal desire. The lives of artists 
are as a rule so highly unsatisfactory not to say tragic because of their 
inferiority on the human and personal side, and not because of a sinister 
dispensation. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must 
pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire. It is as though each of us 
were endowed at birth with a certain capital of energy. The strongest force 
in our make-up will seize and all but monopolize this energy, leaving so 
little over that nothing of value can come of it. In this way the creative 
force can drain the human impulses to such a degree that the personal ego 
must develop all sorts of bad qualities ruthlessness, selfishness and vanity 
(so-called "auto-erotism") and even every kind of vice, in order to main- 
tain the spark of life and to keep itself from being wholly bereft. The auto- 
erotism of artists resembles that of illegitimate or neglected children who 
from their tenderest years must protect themselves from the destructive in- 
fluence of people who have no love to give them who develop bad quali- 
ties for that very purpose and later maintain an invincible egocentrism by 
remaining all their lives infantile and helpless or by actively offending 
against the moral code or the law. How can we doubt that it is his art that 
explains the artist, and not the insufficiencies and conflicts of his personal 
life? These are nothing but the regrettable results of the fact that he is an 
artist that is to say, a man who from his very birth has been called to a 
greater task than the ordinary mortal. A special ability means a heavy ex- 
penditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from 
some other side of life. 

It makes no difference whether the poet knows that his work is begotten, 
grows and matures with him, or whether he supposes that by taking thought 
he produces it out of the void. His opinion of the matter does not change 
the fact that his own work outgrows him as a child its mother. The creative 
process has feminine quality, and the creative work arises from unconscious 
depths we might say, from the realm of the mothers. Whenever the cre- 
ative force predominates, human life is ruled and moulded by the uncon- 
scious as against the active will, and the conscious ego is swept along on a 
subterranean current, being nothing more than a helpless observer of 
events. The work in process becomes the poet's fate and determines his 
psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust which 
creates Goethe. And what is Faust but a symbol ? By this I do not mean an 
allegory that points to something all too familiar, but an expression that 
stands for something not clearly known and yet profoundly alive. Here it is 
something that lives in the soul of every German, and that Goethe has 
helped to bring to birth. Could we conceive of anyone but a German writing 
Faust or Also sprach Zarathustra? Both play upon something that rever- 
berates in the German soul a "primordial image," as Jacob Burckhardt 

230 The Creative Process 

once called it the figure of a physician or teacher of mankind. The arche- 
typal image of the wise man, the saviour or redeemer, lies buried and dor- 
mant in man's unconscious since the dawn of culture; it is awakened when- 
ever the times are out of joint and a human society is committed to a serious 
error. When people go astray they feel the need of a guide or teacher or even 
of the physician. These primordial images are numerous, but do not appear 
in the dreams of individuals or in works of art until they are called into 
being by the waywardness of the general outlook. When conscious life is 
characterized by one-sidedness and by a false attitude, then they are acti- 
vated one might say, "instinctively" and come to light in the dreams of 
individuals and the visions of artists and seers, thus restoring the psychic 
equilibrium of the epoch. 

In this way the work of the poet comes to meet the spiritual need of the 
society in which he lives, and for this reason his work means more to him 
than his personal fate, whether he is aware of this or not. Being essentially 
the instrument for his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no reason 
for expecting him to interpret it for us. He has done the best that in him 
lies in giving it form, and he must leave the interpretation to others and to 
the future. A great work of art is like a dream; for all its apparent obvious- 
ness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal. A dream never says: 
"You ought," or: "This is the truth." It presents an image in much the same 
way as nature allows a plant to grow, and we must draw our own con- 
clusions. If a person has a nightmare, it means either that he is too much 
given to fear, or else that he is too exempt from it; and if he dreams of the 
old wise man it may mean that he is too pedagogical, as also that he stands 
in need of a teacher. In a subtle way both meanings come to the same thing, 
as we perceive when we are able to let the work of art act upon us as it acted 
upon the artist. To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it 
once shaped him. Then we understand the nature of his experience. We 
see that he has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the col- 
lective psyche that underlies consciousness with its isolation and its painful 
errors; that he has penetrated to that matrix of life in which all men are 
embedded, which imparts a common rhythm to all human existence, and 
allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to man- 
kind as a whole. 

The secret of artistic creation and of the effectiveness of art is to be found 
in a return to the state of participation mystique -to that level of experience 
at which it is man who lives, and not the individual, and at which the weal 
or woe of the single human being does not count, but only human exist- 
ence. This is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, but 
none the less profoundly moves us each and all. And this is also why the 
personal life of the poet cannot be held essential to his art but at most a 

Carl Gustav Jung 

help or a hindrance to his creative task. He may go the way of a Philistine, 
a good citizen, a neurotic, a fool or a criminal. His personal career may be 
inevitable and interesting, but it does not explain the poet. 

Translated by W. S. Dell and Gary F. Baynes 

From Modem Man in Search of a Soul, by Carl Gustav Jung. By permission of the publishers: 
Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, and Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York 

2 32 The Creative Process 

Herbert Spencer : CONVERSATION WITH 


octal Statics having, I presume, been referred to, she said that, consider- 
ing how much thinking I must have done, she was surprised to see no lines 
on my forehead. "I suppose it is because I am never puzzled," I said. -This 
called forth the exclamation "O! that's the most arrogant thing I ever 
heard uttered." To which I rejoined "Not at all, when you know what I 
mean." And I then proceeded to explain that my mode of thinking did not 
involve that concentrated effort which is commonly accompanied by 
wrinkling of the brows. 

It has never been my way to set before myself a problem and puzzle out 
an answer. The conclusions at which I have from time to time arrived, have 
not been arrived at as solutions of questions raised; but have been arrived 
at unawares each as the ultimate outcome of a body of thoughts which 
slowly grew from a germ. Some direct observation, or some fact met with 
in reading, would dwell with me: apparently because I had a sense of its 
significance. It was not that there arose a distinct consciousness of its gen- 
eral meaning; but rather that there was a kind of instinctive interest in 

Herbert Spencer 

those facts which have general meanings. For example, the detailed struc- 
ture of this or that species of mammal, though I might willingly read about 
it, would leave little impression; but when I met with the statement that, 
almost without exception, mammals, even as unlike as the whale and the 
giraffe, have seven cervical vertebrae, this would strike me and be remem- 
bered as suggestive. Apt as I thus was to lay hold of cardinal truths, it would 
happen occasionally that one, most likely brought to mind by an illustra- 
tion, and gaining from the illustration fresh distinctiveness, would be con- 
templated by me for a while, and its bearings observed. A week afterwards, 
possibly, the matter would be remembered; and with further thought about 
it, might occur a recognition of some wider application than I had before 
perceived: new instances being aggregated with those already noted. Again 
after an interval, perhaps of a month perhaps of half a year, something 
would remind me of that which I had before remarked; and mentally run- 
ning over the facts might be followed by some further extension of the idea. 
When accumulation of instances had given body to a generalization, re- 
flexion would reduce the vague conception at first framed to a more definite 
conception; and perhaps difficulties or anomalies passed over for a while, 
but eventually forcing themselves on attention, might cause a needful quali- 
fication and a truer shaping of the thought. Eventually the growing gen- 
eralization, thus far inductive, might take a deductive form: being all at 
once recognized as a necessary consequence of some physical principle 
some established law. And thus, little by little, in unobtrusive ways, without 
conscious intention or appreciable effort, there would grow up a coherent 
and organized theory. Habitually the process was one of slow unforced 
development, often extending over years; and it was, I believe, because the 
thinking done went on in this gradual, almost spontaneous, way, without 
strain, that there was an absence of those lines of thought which Miss Evans 
remarked an absence almost as complete thirty years later, notwithstand- 
ing the amount of thinking done in the interval. 

I name her remark, and give this explanation, partly to introduce the 
opinion that a solution reached in the way described is more likely to be 
true than one reached in pursuance of a determined effort to find a solution. 
The determined effort causes perversion of thought. When endeavouring 
to recollect some name or thing which has been forgotten, it frequently 
happens that the name or thing sought will not arise in consciousness; but 
when attention is relaxed, the missing name or thing often suggests itself. 
While thought continues to be forced down certain wrong turnings which 
had originally been taken, the search is vain; but with the cessation of strain 
the true association of ideas has an opportunity of asserting itself. And, 
similarly, it may be that while an effort to arrive forthwith at some answer 

234 The Creative Process 

to a problem, acts as a distorting factor in consciousness and causes error, a 
quiet contemplation of the problem from time to time, allows those pro- 
clivities of thought which have probably been caused unawares by experi- 
ences, to make themselves felt, and to guide the mind to the right conclusion. 

From An Autobiography, by Herbert Spencer. By permission of the publishers: D. Appleton- 
Century Company, Inc., New York City. 

Herbert Spencer 235 



SATISFACTORY interpretation of imaginative phenomena in terms of 
neural mechanisms may be presented by some fortunate author at a future 
time. But even now there is still much of substance to be said. Knowledge 
normally grows by such progressive steps as clarifying and isolating a prob- 
lem, identifying the variables relevant to it, and following their correlations. 
Only later, often much later, does the nature of the basic entities begin to 
become manifest and does it become possible to grapple with them. 

In the field of heredity, for example, Mendel isolated the problem in terms 
of simple characters and followed their behavior during inheritance. These 
results suggested separable inherited units, which remained as hypothetical 
for half a century as were the atoms of Democritus for nearly two millennia. 
Then chromosomes were seen; in another half -century the genes became 
visible; and studies are now proceeding in terms of the chemical properties 
of specific substances. In dealing with imagination it will be profitable simi- 
larly to examine its common meaning, to consider how psychological study 
has defined and measured relevant mental abilities, to note the relation of 
local brain damage to these abilities, and to develop the relation of these 
psychological phenomena to neural mechanisms. 

236 The Creative Process 


Imagination is more than bringing images into consciousness; that is im- 
agery or at most hallucination. Imagination, creative imagination, is an 
action of the mind that produces a new idea or insight. "Out of chaos the 
imagination frames a thing of beauty" (Lowes's The Road to Xanadu) or 
of truth. The thing comes unheralded, as a flash, full-formed. We have all 
had this experience, and famous or important cases abound. 

Kekule solved the chemical problem of the benzene molecule, a ring 
rather than a chain of carbon atoms, when in a f atigue- (or alcohol-) en- 
gendered daydream he saw a snake swallow its tail. Michelson's "intuition" 
gave him the equation for some complicated tidal phenomena, and when 
an expert mathematician reported a different result from his calculations, 
Michelson sent him away to find, as he did, an error. 

Otto Loewi, recently awarded the Nobel prize for proving that active 
chemicals are involved in the action of nerves, once told me the story of his 
discovery. His experiments on the control of a beating frog heart were giv- 
ing puzzling results. He worried over these, slept fitfully and, lying wakeful 
one night, saw a wild possibility and the experiment which would test it. 
He scribbled some notes and slept peacefully till morning. The next day 
was agony he could not read the scrawl nor recall the solution, though 
remembering that he had had it. That night was even worse until at three 
in the morning lightning flashed again. He took no chances this time but 
went to the laboratory at once and started his experiment 

Imagination, not reason, creates the novel. It is to social inheritance what 
mutation is to biological inheritance; it accounts for the arrival of the fittest. 
Reason or logic, applied when judgment indicates that the new is promis- 
ing, acts like natural selection to pan the gold grains from the sand and 
insure the survival of the fittest. Imagination supplies the premises and asks 
the questions from which reason grinds out the conclusions as a calculating 
machine supplies answers. Wood's story of how a plausible answer to a 
perplexing problem came to him while dozing, only to be later exploded 
by his experiments, is illustrative. Dryden, presenting The Rival Ladies, to 
the Earl of Orrery, said: 

"This worthless Present was design'd you, long before it was a Play; when 
it was only a confus'd Mass of Thoughts, tumbling over one another in 
the Dark: When the Fancy was yet in its first Work, moving the Sleeping 
Images of things towards the Light, there to be distinguished, and then 
either chosen or rejected by the Judgment." And Coleridge's artistry has 
compacted the matter into the phrase, "the streamy nature of association, 
which thinking curbs and rudders." . . . 

Simple imagination is observable in a pure and untrammeled state in 
dreams, in the hallucinations of drugs and other agents, in those hypna- 

R. W. Gerard 237 

gogic states which interpose between wake and sleep or in the slightly- 
fettered daydreaming while awake, in the free fancies of the child and the 
less free fancies of the amateur. For ideas, like mutations, are mostly bad 
by the criteria of judgment, and experience or expertness suppresses them 
unless imaginings get out of hand and displace reality, as in the insanities. 
But the imaginative hopper is fed from and feeds back to the conscious and 
critical level. There the heat of mental work transforms the soft ingots of 
fancy into the hard steel of finished creations. Baudelaire refers to "the labor 
by which a revery becomes a work of art," and Mary Boole has likened the 
alternate conscious and unconscious digestion of a problem to the rumina- 
tion of a cow as indeed our language does in using "rumination" for a 
loose form of mental activity 

Clearly, then, pursuit of imagination leads us into the unconscious and 
its mechanisms. Nor is this any longer a completely uncharted wilderness, 
for psychoanalysis especially has even now developed a usable body of 
knowledge to guide the explorer. It has recognized and isolated such un- 
conscious mechanisms as condensation, displacement, projection, and iden- 
tification as well as repression, sublimation, substitution, rejection, denial, 
introjection, suppression, and conversion, to extend the list which often 
enable the student not only to see further into the how of imagining but 
even to account for what is imagined. This is true for the normal and per- 
haps more strikingly for the disturbed; the previously meaningless chatter 
of the schizophrenic patient, for example, is quite intelligible in terms of 
known dynamics. Condensation and identification, respectively, are clearly 
revealed in the following statements by Coleridge concerning himself: 
"Ideas and images exist in the twilight realms of consciousness, that shad- 
owy half -being, that state of nascent existence in the twilight of imagination 
and just on the vestibule of consciousness, a confluence of our recollections, 
through which we establish a centre, as it were, a sort of nucleus in [this] 
reservoir of the soul." And: "From my very childhood, I have been accus- 
tomed to abstract, and as it were, unrealize whatever of more than common 
interest my eyes dwelt on, and then by a sort of transfusion and transmission 
of my consciousness to identify myself with the object." And Lowes, in a 
painstaking study of the materials Coleridge had immersed himself in dur- 
ing the years prior to his writing "The Ancient Mariner," was able to trace 
to these sources every word and phrase of the poem's most vivid stanzas. 
As Lowes says: 

"Facts which sank at intervals out of conscious recollection drew together 
beneath the surface through almost chemical affinities of common ele- 
ments, . . . And there in Coleridge's unconscious mind, while his conscious- 
ness was busy with the toothache, or Hartley's infant ills, or pleasant 
strollings with the Wordsworths between Nether Stowey and Alfoxden, or 

The Creative "Process 

what is dreamt in this or that philosophy there in the dark moved the 
phantasms o the fishes and animalculae and serpentine forms o his 
vicarious voyagings, thrusting out tentacles of association, and interweaving 
beyond disengagement." This is not, of course, to detract a grain from Cole- 
ridge's achievement; it is only a recognition and demonstration of the sen- 
sory components on which imagination operates. For the components had 
to be integrated, the poem given form. Again to quote Lowes: 

"Behind 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' lie crowding masses of im- 
pressions, incredible in their richness and variety. But the poem is not the 
sum of the impressions, as a heap of diamond dust is the sum of its shining 
particles; nor is the poet merely a sensitized medium for their reception and 
transmission. Beneath the poem lie also innumerable blendings and fusings 
of impressions, brought about below the level of conscious mental processes. 
But the poem is not the confluence of unconsciously merging images, as a 
pool of water forms from the coalescence of scattered drops; nor is the poet 
a somnambulist in a subliminal world. Neither the conscious impressions 
nor their unconscious interpenetrations constitute the poem. They are in- 
separable from it, but it is an entity which they do not create. On the con- 
trary, every impression, every new creature rising from the potent waters 
of the [unconscious] Well, is what it now is through its participation in a 
whole, foreseen as a whole in each integral part a whole which is the 
working out of a controlling imaginative design. The incommunicable, 
unique essence of the poem is its form!' 

And Hartmann says: 

"Thus works ordinary talent; it produces artistically by means of rational 
selection and combination, guided by its esthetic judgment. At this point 
stand the ordinary dilettante and the majority of professional artists. They 
one and all cannot comprehend that these means, supported by technical 
routine, may perhaps accomplish something excellent, but can never attain 

to anything great Combination procures the unity of the whole by 

laborious adaptation and experimentation in detail, and therefore, in spite 
of all its labour, never accomplishes its purpose, but always allows, in its 
bungling work, the conglomerate of the details to be visible. Genius, in 
virtue of the conception from the Unconscious, has, in the necessary appro- 
priateness and mutual relations of the several parts, a unity so perfect that 
it can only be compared to the unity of natural organisms, which likewise 
springs out of the Unconscious." Form, structure, relationship, organism (or 
org in my usage), part-whole systems, gestalt, or closure is basic for the 
product of imagination and for its process. To see star groups, constellations, 
instead of unrelated stars the literal meaning of "consider" is the gist of 
closure, of a confluence of elements. Since imagination only regroups sen- 
sory material, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Perception is really 

JR. W. Gerard 239 

a harder problem, for red rays and green rays, even falling on separate eyes, 
do give the "new" sensation of yellow; but imagination cannot conjure a 
hue for ultraviolet. A mermaid, griffin, or centaur, as Lucretius recognized, 
are only recombinations of familiar elements. Yet when we recall that a 
single inning of a chess game may offer some four hundred choices, that 
all literature is built from the same words and these of the same letters, as 
all material is of the same elements and their handful of subatomic particles, 
novelty in combination does not seem too barren. A new and fertile pattern 
of thought may come from a conceptual reslicing of the universe into fresh 
classes and the making of new combinations of them. A good insight is 
likely to recognize the universal in the particular and in the strange per- 
haps overexemplified in this statement by Coleridge: 

"My illustrations swallow up my thesis. I feel too intensely the omni- 
presence of all in each, platonically speaking; or, psychologically, my brain- 
fibers, or the spiritual light which abides in the brain-marrow, as visible light 
appears to do in sundry rotten mackerel and other smashy matters, is of too 
general an affinity with all things, and though it perceives the difference of 
things, yet is eternally pursuing the likenesses, or, rather, that which is 
common [between them]." 

A good insight generalizes progressively, as is so well illustrated by the 
growth of mathematics and the formulation of ever more inclusive and freer 
equations (e.g., the Pythagorian theorem) which can then be applied to an 
increasing range of particular cases. George Boole, for example, introduced 
modern logic by recognizing class as basic to, and more general than, num- 
ber. Finally, a good insight sees (or foresees) in a welter of impressions that 
which is relevant to the goal earlier indicated by reason; it winnows the 
important facts from the unimportant. But now we are reaching the domain 
of more formal psychological studies. 


The gestalt school of psychologists, especially, has emphasized the impor- 
tance of closure or structuring of "considering" -in insight. Insight is an 
imaginative way of learning or problem solving, in contrast to the blind and 
buffeted way of trial and error, often called "at-sight" for contrast. (A neu- 
rotic behavior development, inappropriate to the actual situation and, in a 
sense, no longer goal-directed, might similarly be called "out-sight.") Be- 
yond sensation and even simple perception, involving the correlation of 
current sense data and of past experience, closure is a basic property of 
mind. It is, in Goldstein's formulation, the ability to separate a figure from 
its ground, to formulate a gestalt, or form, to identify an entity. (It operates 
in seeing three separated dots as the corners of a triangle.) From this flows 
the setting up of classes and the recognition of spatial or temporal- rela- 

240 The Creative Process 

tions. Thus Conrad notes the ability to combine parts or elements into a 
whole, to integrate systems; and also the converse ability to identify parts 
or elements in the whole, to fragment or differentiate systems. And Wert- 
heimer further recognizes the ability to shift from one whole to another 
one, to restructure a system. 

These activities may seem tautological restatements and are certainly 
closely related intuitively; yet, as we shall see, they enjoy considerable inde-. 
pendence and can be separately measured. Most immediately exemplifying 
imagination would seem to be the last, flexibility of structure; for Wert- 
heimer correctly says, "Creative thinking is the process of destroying one 
gestalt in favor of a better one." It is the highest imaginative achievement to 
be able to restructure in useful ways the basic propositions or axioms on 
which our great logical thought edifices have been erected. And, as an 
indirect sign that even such intangible mind work may still be sharply tied 
to the properties of the brain, there is the observation (Brickner) that stimu- 
lation of just one particular small region of the exposed human brain is 
able to arrest movement in thought. A conscious patient , counts smoothly 
except while the electric current is acting, when the same number is simply 
repeated. Thus (with the period of stimulation italicized) the subject says, 

Some examples of imagination at the comfortable and familiar level of 
parlor problems will serve best, perhaps, to illustrate the points made above. 

The victim is asked to draw four straight lines which shall pass through 
all nine dots arranged in a square of three rows of three dots. The presenta- 
tion sets the gestalt of the square, but within that pattern a solution is im- 
possible. When the imagination overcomes this restriction, however, and 
extends lines beyond the self-imposed margin of the figure, the answer is 
given almost by inspection. Entirely comparable is the problem of con- 
structing from six matches tossed on a table four equilateral triangles, each 
having its sides the length of a match. So long as the solver limits himself 
to the suggested plane of the table he struggles in vain; as soon as he adds a 
third dimension in his consideration the tetrahedron almost leaps at him. 

In contrast to the above instances, many problems require essentially no 
imagination but either memory or reason. The great bulk of questions aired 
in quiz programs are ones of simple memory. A problem that can be solved 
without imagination is that of exchanging dimes and pennies. Three of each 
are lined up, with one central space vacant between the dimes and the 
pennies. Any coin can slide forward into a space or can jump over a single 
coin of the opposite kind into a space. The necessary moves can be found by 
brute trial and error or, more simply, by a little reasoning; but the initial 
gestalt is retained throughout. 

R. W. Gerard 241 

Numerous examples of insight could be given at the infrahuman level: 
Kohler's chimpanzees which "closed" two elements and brought a box and 
a stick to reach a banana; Yerkes' ape which, having accidentally whirled 
into the correct solution of a choice-of-gates problem, regularly thereafter 
whirled before trying the gate of his choice; Maier's rats which were able to 
combine "knowledge-of-general-maze pattern" and "block-between-me- 
and-food" and choose the shortest available path; and the innumerable ani- 
mals that, during conditioning, seem suddenly to make the induction of 
"bigger-than" or "nearer-than" or "same-as >? and thereafter give errorless 
performances. But a further pursuit of imagination in man will be more 

If imagination is a definable property of the mind it should also be 
measurable; and as the definition progresses from the vague impressions of 
ordinary human dealings to that offered by standardized situations, so the 
measure moves from the subjective judgment of a person, as having a good 
or poor imagination, to a fairly quantitative statement about performance. 
Thurstone, especially, has pressed forward the analysis of mental abilities. 
By extensive testing with a rich variety of problems he has shown at least 
seven such abilities which are independent of each other. Thus, individual 
A may outperform individual B by ten- or a hundredfold on tests which 
utilize ability i, while B may similarly outperform A on tests involving 
ability 2. A similar analysis has revealed some ten perceptual abilities, and 
others surely remain to be uncovered. Some abilities, such as those of word 
fluency or verbal understanding, depend for their exercise on learned lan- 
guage, and so performance improves over much of the life-span. But others, 
such as space visualization, show litde improvement in their use after the 
age of six to eight years; in fact, performance may actually decline. The 
case for inborn capacities, of particualar degrees for each capacity in each 
person, is thus strong. 

Is imagination some one or several of these separable abilities or some 
common "power factor" underlying them? The answer is not yet available, 
but it is within easy grasp when persons of outstanding talents of various 
sorts are measured by such standardized tests. Meanwhile, some interesting 
guesses may be made. At least four of Thurstone's factors might be involved 
in imagination, and one of these seems almost to define it. The I, or induc- 
tion, factor is the ability to see logical patterns or relations (and so would be 
less related to imagination than to reason) . A convenient test for it is to have 
the subject supply the next item of a series. A very elementary series is: 
OXXOXXOX?. A more severe demand is made by: 1,^7, 3, 6, 5, 5, 7, 4, 9,?. 
The K factor, measured by the Rohrschach "ink-blot" test, is almost at the 
other end of the mental spectrum and, far from impinging on logic, plumbs 
the unconscious. It is of the free completion type; the subject is given an 

242 The Creative Process 

amorphous stimulus and allowed to react with no restraints as when 3 
person gazes into the flames playing over a fire or at clouds drifting in the 
sky and "sees" castles or bears or witches acting out untold stories. It is 
suggestive that a group of successful executives performed (in richness, 
variety, etc., of responses to the ink blots) significantly above the average on 
this test. 

Two other factors rather specifically deal with closure. The A factor is 
the ability to make a closure or complete a gestalt and is measured, for 
example, by having the subject identify partially erased pictures or words. 
The E factor is the ability to replace one closure by another and is tested 
by the Gottschalt figures, or by "hidden faces" in a picture of different 
manifest content. The two abilities, especially E, are rather precisely those 
considered earlier in defining the act of creative imagination. It is impres- 
sive that two independent factors can in fact be isolated for such intuitively 
equivalent actions as making or remarking a closure! When such primary 
abilities have been measured in our Einsteins, Edisons, Toscaninis, Van 
Goghs, Masefields, and Lincolns we shall be far along the way. From des- 
criptions of Coleridge, for example, there is little doubt that he would have 
performed very well indeed on tests for K, S (space), W (word facility), 
M (memory), and I and A. 


The inheritance of imagination will be ever more easily studied as identifi- 
cation becomes more precise. Even now the comparison of the mental 
abilities in twins and siblings is in progress. Pending such finer analysis, I 
may mention evidence that a strong hereditary element is present for 
"averaged" intelligence and for particular talents. Newman and Holzinger, 
for example, have found an average difference in LQ. of 5.9 for identical 
twins raised together and that this value increases only to 7.7 for those 
raised apart. In contrast, fraternal twins raised together differ by 8.4, and 
sibs by 14.5 if raised together, 15.5 if raised apart. Orphan pairs differ by 
' 17.7, whether apart or together. 

A study of outstanding contemporary virtuosi and singers by Scheinfeld 
shows that two-thirds of the parents of these artists possessed high musical 
talent. Conversely, in families with both parents talented, two-thirds of the 
children also were gifted, whereas in those in which neither parent showed 
talent (but of course one child was outstanding) only one-fourth of the off- 
spring were gifted. He suggests that the minimal genetic interpretation of 
these facts is that musical talent demands the presence of at least two domi- 
nant genes. The importance of the hereditary factor is further attested by 
the age at which these outstanding musicians had clearly manifested un- 
mistakable talent an age under six years! 

R. W. Gerard 243 

Interesting data in the field of science come from the starring- results in 
American Men of Science. Mathematicians achieve their star at the average 
age of twenty-nine, with physicists close behind; botanists and geologists 
wait until they are fifty-two for the same kudos. All will probably agree that 
sheer imagination and intellectual power, as compared with experience and 
learning, are relatively more important in the former fields than in the 
latter. That the growth of mental capacity is more a matter of biological 
maturation than of life experience is suggested by all these findings, as well 
as by the high performance of children on some of Thurstone's factor tests. 
Similar conclusions in other fields of neural performance are justified by 
CoghilTs evidence that salamanders kept anaesthetized during the develop- 
mental days when their fellow embryos struggle about "learning" to swim, 
swim well at once on ending their trance state; and by the fact that a normal 
human baby begins to smile at two months after birth, a seven-month pre- 
mature, four months after birth. 

A final comment in this area, on the evolution of mental abilities. Several 
men have attempted to construct a scale of comparative intelligence of 
animals in terms of such learning criteria as the maximum time over which 
a trace-conditioned reflex could be established, but without convincing suc- 
cess. That man's abilities differ in degree more than in kind from those of 
his slower-witted biological relatives is nonetheless probable. Apes show 
learning by insight as well as by trial and error and have even been taught 
to work for money as industriously as do their gifted cousins. Wolfe has 
trained chimpanzees to put counters into the slot of a vending machine to 
obtain food, different amounts for different colors. Having learned the 
purchasing value of these colored bits, the animals will do "chores" to ob- 
tain them and will work harder for the more valuable ones. 

Since the gross and microscopic structure and the chemical acd electrical 
functioning of the brain are measurably comparable in all vertebrates, rea- 
sonably alike in all mammals, and strikingly similar in the higher primates, 
where enormously detailed parallels have been demonstrated, a likeness in 
mental capacities is not surprising. The gray cortex of the cerebrum has 
swelled out from the primitive nerve cell groups to which came messages 
from nose, ear, and eye. These "distance receptors," sensitive to changes in 
the world at a distance from their possessor and so posing problems to the 
animal for a priori solution, somehow whipped into existence a brain 
capable of solving them. It is the same cerebrum in man and monkey; but 
man has a deal more of it, which permits rich additional permutations. And 
now that the brain is introduced into the picture, we must consider knowl- 
edge in the more medical areas. 

The Creative Process 


Pathology. It remains sadly true that most of our present understanding of 
mind would remain as valid and useful if, for all we knew, the cranium were 
stuffed with cotton wadding. In time, the detailed correlation of psychic 
phenomena and neural processes will surely come; but today we are hardly 
beyond the stage of unequivocal evidence that the correlation does exist. 
The neuro-anatomist and physiologist are still crudely deciphering the 
architecture and operation of the organ of mind; the psychologist and psy- 
chiatrist are concerned with nuances in the overtones it plays. Yet the gap 
is narrowing, and a primitive bridge is offered by the grosser disturbances 
of brain and mind. Perhaps most dramatic are the aphasias, a group of dis- 
turbances in the ability to handle "meaning," associated with more or less 
sharply delimited regions of brain damage. Since disease or accident rarely 
destroys an exact division of the cerebrum and since different divisions have 
unique functions, the symptoms are commonly mixed and vary from case 
to case; but such a diagrammatic instance as the following has been reported. 

An educated man, proficient in several languages, suffered a "stroke" 
which left him aphasic. At one stage in his slow improvement he could con- 
verse freely and intelligently but could not read. His vision was not dis- 
turbed; he could copy a paragraph correctly, but it carried no meaning to 
him. He was able, in fact, to take dictation in one language, translate in his 
mind, and write the correct passage in another tongue. But having written 
it, he could not read his own writing; it was Chinese to him! One is 
reminded of the small boy who, called on to read aloud in class, was asked 
the meaning of what he had read and gave the startled and startling reply, 
"I don't know. I wasn't listening." Another type of case, with disturbance 
more on the motor than the sensory side, could not give the word for 7 but 
could say it by counting aloud from one. Another, wanting to say "ruler" 
could not do so until he had made a sketch of one. Yet another could not 
say words but demonstrated, by holding up fingers for syllables, that he 
"knew" them. For example, "What is a baby cat?" No sound of kitten, but 
two fingers raised in response. Even when words remain, they are often 
inexact or roundabout, and the subject seems to be indulging in fancy speech 
or "overwriting," as shown by the following quotations from a patient dur- 
ing and subsequent to an aphasic episode: "I trust I am now learning to do 
my very best to secure the ideas to put myself carefully to operate the item 
to me which was seeming away when needed so much by me." And, later, 
describing his aphasic condition, "Personally I got dumb and could not 
remember things." (These cases are quoted from Weisenburg and Mc- 
Bride's Aphasia.) 

As these instances show, there is commonly a disturbance in the use of 
language, but this is too limited a view of the defect. Language is man's 

RfW, Gerard 245 

main symbolic system, and aphasia has been considered as a disturbance in 
symbolism (Head) or in propositional expression (Jackson). But formal 
symbols are still but one avenue to meaning, and the others may also be 
disturbed in aphasia. A patient may fail to recognize familiar tunes, or 
may be unable to identify by touch a common object placed in his hand, 
such as a key or knife or pencil, although he recognizes well enough that 
some object is there and may name it at once on sight. Similarly on the 
motor side, a man could not at will move his tongue over his lip on instruc- 
tions, which he understood, but could do so to remove a crumb placed 
there. Comparable defects in meaningfulness have been produced in 
monkeys by appropriate brain operations on the parietal lobes (Kluever and 
Bucy). Such an animal still sees and feels objects as well as ever, but it no 
longer recognizes them. It will pick up, bring to its mouth, and drop again, 
in interminable random activity, such normally intensely discriminated 
objects as a banana, a stone, and a live snake. This behavior is in sharp con- 
trast to that of a monkey whose visual sensory cortex (occipital) has been 
removed. Then, while light sensitivity is fully retained, as shown by eye 
reflexes, all visual perception is gone; the animal is effectively blind. 

Thus meaning, in its widest sense, is imperiled by such brain insults, and 
the gestalt psychologists have not failed to point out that the very ability 
to create closures is damaged in aphasics. But, in man, language (with 
mathematics as one form of language) remains an especial index to the 
workings of mind; and Pick, combining philological study with his clinical 
observations, has formulated a series of stages in language use, which may 
be interrupted anywhere by the aphasic slash. On the sensory or receptive 
side there is, first, the perception of speech as distinct from mere sound. 
There follows the recognition of words as separate entities and then of the 
"musical" parts of speech, cadence, and intonation. Only then comes an 
awareness of meaning, followed by full understanding of sentences with 
their proper word relations and emphases. Turning now to the motor or 
expressive sides, the sequence is intuitive thought (also called verbalizing 
or inner speech), which becomes structured thought, and is then cast into 
the schema of a sentence, only after which are the actual words chosen and 
the result articulated. Aphasia may thus prevent sensation from emerging 
into meaning, meaning from eventuating in behavior, or meaning itself 
from coming clear. The last would be a disturbance in closure or structuring. 
This represents, perhaps, the basic disintegration of imagination. Imagina- 
tion may be the word for that all-important no man's land between the end 
of the receptive process and the start of the expressive one. 

The future is parturient with the answers. For the advance of neuro- 
surgery is offering to study clean-cut cases of brain defects (or stimulation) ; 
patients with local brain amputations or incisions for tumors or infections 

246 The Creative Process 

or even, rather less soundly, for mental disturbances. And the advance of 
psychological measuring is supplying better precision tools with which to 
make the study. Thus, at the receptive levels, superficial damage to a region 
(17) of the visual cortex destroys color sensations but preserves pattern; 
more profound damage destroys pattern recognition as well while leaving 
(as in the monkey) light sensitivity. Comparably, direct stimulation of 
area 17 in a conscious patient produces an awareness of lights; when the 
next area, 18, is stimulated, the lights move about; and, if the next brain 
region is excited, complete pictures flash into consciousness as of a man 
somersaulting toward the observer. 

And at the integrative or imaginative levels of meaningfulness, we need 
only the results of applying the tests for primary abilities, especially for 
Thurstone's A, E, I, and K factors, to patients with specific brain operations 
to make a great step forward. Even now, Halsted has found a striking de- 
fect, in patients whose frontal lobes have been partly removed, in the ability 
to make categories. A normal adult, given a miscellaneous collection of 
familiar objects and asked to group them in as many ways as possible, can 
set up dozens of categories for grouping by color, shape, material, use, and 
so on and on. The operated patient can make few, if any, groups. Now 
making groups or classes is a form of closure, and here again we see im- 
agination crumbling along with the brain that spawns it. But we must look 
more closely at the structure of the brain and the problem of localization. 

Anatomy. The introspective psychologists have distinguished between 
crude sensation, organized perception, and fullformed imagery on the 
sensory side; reason, will, and action on the motor side. The boundaries are 
not sharp, to be sure, yet one can almost follow the one into the other on 
moving with nerve messages along the nervous system. From the single 
receptor, or sense organ tactile corpuscle of the skin, eye, ear, etc. comes 
but one modality of sensation touch, light, sound. This has the attribute 
of intensity, given by the frequency or closeness with which impulses follow 
each other in each nerve fiber and, less, by the number of fibers activated. 
When the message reaches appropriate regions of the nervous system, the 
sensation also has its particular quality of touch, or pitch, and this much of 
pattern that a "local sign" is attached, so that the region of the body (touch) 
or receptor -(eye) from which the messages come remains identifiable. As 
nerve fibers from receptors gather into nerve bundles (along with motor 
fibers for much of the way, but separating at the ends, especially where they 
join the central nervous system), sensory messages are grouped together 
either by modality, in special cases like those of seeing in the optic nerve 
and those of hearing in the auditory nerve, or more generally by region, as 
all the skin and other sensations from one finger in a particular nerve or 
nerve branch. 

R. W. Gerard 247 

Yet as soon as these latter nerves enter the nervous system, mainly along 
the spinal cord, the relay fibers are shuffled about so that they also become 
grouped by modality. Thus, if a nerve to the leg is cut, some portion of the 
leg skin (and muscle) will have lost all sensation of touch, pressure, tem- 
perature, pain, position, vibration, etc. But if one of the relay bundles in the 
spinal cord is damaged, the entire limb will lose only the sense of touch or 
of pain or of position, as examples, depending on which part of the cross 
section of the cord is injured, while retaining the other senses unimpaired. 
When these second relay fibers pass on their messages to the third member 
of the team, in the thalamus at the base of the great cerebral hemispheres, 
there is another reshuffling so that region again enters strongly into the 
arrangement. And from here the nerve wires fan out to reach the cerebral 
cortex, each to its own particular spot. 

Optic fibers run to the occipital lobe and are there ordered so that each 
region of the retina is represented at a roughly comparable position on the 
cortex. Fibers from the skin carry all the cutaneous sense messages, remixed 
as to modality, to the parietal lobe just behind the great Rolandic fissure, 
where the various body regions are neatly arranged in order; from the foot 
at the vertex of the brain to the head well down the lateral surface as if a 
tiny and rather grotesque manikin of the body lay upside down (and right 
side left) on this region of the brain. Sound, smell, balance, hearing are 
similarly "placed" in given parts of the cerebral cortex, and, on the motor 
side, the body muscles are represented just in front of the cutaneous area, 
across the Rolandic fissure, and are ordered as a manikin in like fashion. 
Muscle sense, which tells us limb position, for example, overlaps the cutane- 
ous and motor areas, again in the same order from foot to head. The spatial 
arrangement of entering nerve fibers in the auditory cortex is in terms of 
pitch, rather than of position and, just discovered, there is a double location 
for hearing two distinct brain areas in each hemisphere. 

These cortical areas to which sensory nerve messages are projected from 
the thalamus, or from which motor messages project through the thalamus, 
are called the projection areas. They occupy but a small portion of the cere- 
bral cortex, being surrounded by various association areas; and indeed both 
the microscopic characteristics and arrangements of the nerve cells and the 
functional influences that have been traced between them show that some 
half a hundred individual and distinctive areas are present in the cortex of 
man. Some of the association areas, in close relation to projection areas, are 
primary and concerned directly with an elaboration of the particular pro- 
jected messages. More of them, the secondary association areas, are con- 
cerned with the most general interrelation and reworking of the elaborated 
sensory clues, present and past. Thus, referring again to the aphasias, de- 
struction of the visual projection area (17) causes blindness; of the visual 

248 The Creative Process 

primary association area (18), a pure sensory aphasia (agnosia) for seen 
objects or symbols inability to give meaning to written words; of second- 
ary association areas, a greater or lesser loss in meaningfulness in general, 
an integrative aphasia (aconia). A pure motor aphasia (apraxia), like the 
pure sensory one, would involve a primary association area related to the 
motor area for, say, speech. Stimulation, conversely, gives lights (17), mov- 
ing lights (18), and moving pictures, respectively, as described earlier. 

Now what of sensation, perception, and the like, and especially imagina- 
tion, in relation to this sketched-in organization of the nervous system? 
Clearly, a knowledge of structure and localization of function is not 
enough; for a single nerve impulse running in a single nerve fiber in one 
or another part of the brain is much the same thing, and a billion of them 
simply added together are only a billion of the same things. But nerve im- 
pulses are not simply added. Messages set up from a single hair on a cat's 
paw by touching it with a hair on the observer's hand so lightly that the 
observer feels nothing run up a sensory nerve fiber to the spinal cord and 
there "explode" into many impulses running up to the brain in many fibers, 
which further interact along the way. A person listening to a watch tick 
hears it as louder while a light is being looked at; and experiments on cats 
show a similar enhancement of messages in the auditory sensory paths when 
the nearby optic paths are simultaneously active. The point is that as sen- 
sory messages ascend toward and into the cerebrum they are not merely 
relayed and regrouped, they are also reorganized and reworked; in fact, 
we shall see they even reverberate. 

What may be the conscious concomitants of these various stages of neural 
work is not known; but all the evidence suggests that they would rise in 
richness along with the intricacy of activity patterns in the nervous system. 
If awareness is the internal view of events or systems which are material to 
the external view, as many hold 3 then some proto-consciousness (probably 
not self-consciousness, or an awareness of being conscious) must exist in the 
simplest blob of living protoplasm or, for that matter, even in all substance. 
But, just as behavioral capacity leaps upward when a nervous system is 
present and again as each major improvement in it evolves, especially as 
the great cerebral cortex comes to flower, so subjective awareness does like- 
wise. Some consciousness of sensation may exist in the spinal cord, as does 
some ability to recombine and learn, but this would be difficult to prove and 
is surely of negligible degree compared to what is experienced by man's 
brain. Nevertheless, the sensory messages from receptor through sensory 
nerve and spinal bundles probably represent pretty pure and raw (but un- 
sensed) "sensation" as suggested by some of the facts on the results of 
damage. And if they reach projection areas without much interaction with 
other activity patterns they will result in simple consciously recognized 

R. W. Gerard 249 

sensation. There is even some evidence that the most primitive undiscrimi- 
nated "feelings," such vague discomfort as accompanies mild bowel cramps, 
may depend on older subcortical brain regions, such as part of the thalamus. 
If, however, they interact with other current sensory messages, and with 
the memory traces of past ones, then they are probably more of the character 
of perceptions, after moving on from the thalamus and into the projection 
areas. By the time the primary association areas are engaged, with their 
added complexity, imagery is probably also present. 

A comparable but reverse sequence exists on the motor side, with drive 
or willing or maybe intuitive speech at the start and particular muscle con- 
tractions at the end; with the same possibilities of interruption along the 
way, grading from the aphasias to the out-and-out paralyses. Volition may 
be disengaged from motor expression in less drastic ways than by anatomi- 
cal damage : a person recovering from the stupor due to inhaling concen- 
trated carbon dioxide "wills" to move his hand in response to a request, but 
nothing happens for a minute or more when, to his surprise, the hand 
moves "of itself" {McCulloch). The leaden limbs of a nightmare, when 
the dreamer cannot run for his very life, may be a comparable neural block; 
at least in deep sleep the toe reflex from scratching the sole (Babinski) be- 
haves just as it does when the motor pathways of the nervous system have 
been injured. 

Between perception and imagery on the one hand and volition on the 
other lie the great mental territories of imagination and reason. It might be 
useful to consider imagination as the culmination of sensory events, reason 
as the origin of the motor ones. Or perhaps reason, with its attendant logic, 
verbalization, decision, and willing, is more properly the start of motor 
events, and imagination is the more pervasive and encompassing mind work 
which is the keystone of the sensory-motor arch. Men with moderately 
severe brain injuries may perform well on the usual intelligence tests, while 
falling down on those which sample imagination. Indeed, imagination may 
include a "power" factor of intelligence underlying the others, as Spearman 
believed, and depending on the mass functioning of the whole brain, as 
Lashley's work on animals suggests. 

Certainly, as earlier outlined, imagination depends on sensory informa- 
tion. Man cannot see the world other than as it unfolds itself within the 
sensory projection areas of his brain. These determine his basic orientation 
to externality. In the very spatial arrangement of the areas of vision, skin, 
and muscle sense is embedded an unformulated geometry. The basic units 
of physical science are distilled from these areas: space (centimeters) from 
vision, touch, muscle sense, and vestibular system (the balance organs lo- 
cated within the ear) ; substance (mass, grams) from smell, taste, touch, 
muscle sense, and, secondarily, vision a congenially blind person, on 

250 The Creative Process 

achieving vision, feels objects "hitting" his eyes until he learns to project 
his experience into the third dimension, as we all project the sense of touch 
to the end of a stick with which we explore the bottom of a pond and per- 
haps, even, the notion of force comes from touch and muscle sense, of mat- 
ter more from taste and smell; and time (seconds) most directly from 
hearing. At least, as evidence for this last, is the powerful reaction to heard 
rhythm, tapping to a tune, and the fact that a sound track of words or music 
run backwards is completely meaningless, whereas a reversed light track, 
though often ludicrous or impossible, is perfectly meaningful. Moreover, 
one's subjective judgment of time certainly depends on a brain clock, which 
runs fast in fever according to a precise mathematical function of the brain 
temperature (Hoagland) . (In another, more fanciful, sense one might think 
of time running through the cortex from behind forward. Sensations, from 
already past events, enter behind the Rolandic fissure; motor impulses, 
which will set off future actions, leave from in front of it.) 

From space, mass, and time comes, in turn, the notion of entity the basic 
gestalt of all and the first flutter of imagination. In this sense, that entity is 
given by the sensory organization of the nervous system, Kronecker's fa- 
mous mathematical dictum takes on a profounder meaning: "God made the 
integers, man did all the rest." And, in supplying the substratum for 
thought, vision in man is surely of overwhelming importance. Our thought 
words are almost all of visual reference, although we do "apprehend" a 
meaning and refer to a "tangible suggestion" or a "weighty problem," and 
we may say of something, "it looks heavy or hard," but never that "it feels 

The distinguished art critic Ivens has made the provocative suggestion 
that Greek art and architecture and mathematics are distinctly inferior to 
those of more modern times (a critical judgment which he supports in con- 
siderable detail) because the classic Greeks were essentially hand-minded 
(touch and muscle sense), and modern man, eye-minded. The former, he 
urges, gave the finite, discrete, and particulate; the latter, the infinite and 
graded. Aside from such historical evidence as the continuity implied in 
Zeno's paradoxes, this view seems unsound on a biological basis. Greek 
brains were built like ours, of the same human race; and an earlier race, 
Neanderthal man, had, if anything, a more emphasized vision than our 
own at least the occipital lobe of his brain, with its visual areas, was 
mightily developed. True, individuals vary in the degree to which their 
imagery is visual, auditory, tactile, and the like (it might even be possible to 
measure this in terms of the relative strengths of the occipital (a) and the 
parietal ((3) rhythms in their electrical brain waves) ; but this variation 
almost surely follows the chromosomes, alike in old or new Greeks. 

JR. W. Gerard 257 

No, the more static constructs of the classical period are to be understood 
rather as an earlier phase o imaginative creativity. In all human thought, the 
constant is adumbrated before the variable (mathematics), statics before 
dynamics (physics), structure before function, and classification before 
relationship or evolution (biology) . It is not surprising that this is so, for 
thus does the brain create imaginings: remember that stimulation of the 
visual projection area generates static lights; of the first association area, 
dynamic ones; and of the second association area, moving pictures! 

Physiology. What, then, of the mechanisms of brain functioning, of the 
generation of thought? Granting, again, that the exact relation between 
neural processes and conscious events remains unknown, it is still possible 
to recognize some striking parallels. Are closure and patterning basic to 
imagination? They are simply shot through the entire felt-work of the 
nervous system! Not only in the large-scale organization we have already 
noted but in the small-scale one no less. True, particular nerve fiber bundles 
connect each of the separate areas of the cortex with all; many directly, the 
others by relays. True, some of the bundles carry messages which excite 
the nerve cells they reach, so that when cells in area X fire messages to area 
Y the cells in Y become active. But it is also true that comparable nerve 
bundles connect cortical areas with thalamus, with spinal cord, with all 
parts of the nervous system; so that a nerve impulse entering the central 
mass along any fiber path could, in principle, find its way by one route or 
another to every part of the nervous system. (And in fact, too, under some 
conditions; as when strychnine has rendered the whole neural apparatus 
more sensitive, and a slight irritation anywhere can set off a general con- 
vulsive reflex contraction of all the muscles of the body.) And it is further 
true that the nerve impulses running from area X may not excite but in- 
hibit or suppress the cells in area Y so that these stop their current action 
and cannot be re-excited for a time. Thus, stimulating the arm region of 
the motor area (4) will cause arm movements; but stimulating a region 
(4-8) only a few millimeters forward will stop arm movements and even 
prevent further stimulation of area 4 from starting them. Surprisingly, 
although 4 and 4-8 lie next to each other on the cerebral cortex, this sup- 
pressor action depends on a distant locus of interaction; and part of the 
interplay is via a complex relay path, from 4-8 to deep cells in the cerebrum 
(basal nucleus) and from there to the thalamus and from there back up to 4. 

Each nerve cell is so richly supplied by nerve fibers reaching it from all 
sorts of local and distant neural regions, reaching it and making functional 
connection (synapse) with it, that it is rather like an egg packed in sticky 
excelsior. Messages bombard it along these many paths, some pushing it to 
action and some to quietude, some perhaps powerful enough to tip the 
balance individually but most surely requiring the help of their like fellows. 

252 The Creative Process 

Further, the nerve cell is being influenced by the blood passing it, by the 
oxygen and sugar it receives, the salts that bathe it, the electric currents from 
its neighbors, the temperature at which it finds itself, by drugs which reach 
it. And from this welter of influences its state of health, the condition of 
the environment in which it is living, and, particularly, the clamor of allied 
and opposed messages reaching it from all this comes a single result: the 
cell fires messages along its own fiber to still other cells, or it does not fire. 
There is, to be sure, some gradation in number and frequency of impulses 
sent or in duration of inactivity and depth of inactivability, but essentially 
the balance is between action or no action. Just so the judge, depending on 
the state of his stomach, or the temperature of the courtroom, or the bom- 
bardment of arguments on each side of the case, renders a single decision for 
or against. (Freedom of the individual to make the decision is equally easy 
or hard to discover in the nerve cell and in the judge.) It is the collective 
and patterned actions of the several billion nerve cells of our brains that 
determine our behavior and accompany our thoughts. We must explore 
further this neural patterning. 

A few years back, the only well-recognized pattern was the reflex arc. A 
message entered along a sensory nerve, continued through the nervous sys- 
tem along direct or relayed connections, and finally emerged in a motor 
nerve. Except as messages were in transit, the nervous system was presum- 
ably quiet. Today we know, largely from the electrical pulses of the "brain 
waves," that nerve cells are continuously active in wake or sleep, and many 
beat on like the heart. In part, this beat depends on the chemical and physi- 
cal state of the cell and its surrounding fluid; in part, on the nerve messages 
playing upon it. Suppose cell A sends its fiber to connect, among others, 
with cell B f B with C, C with D, and D with A. If A were once activated 
by a message from X it would excite B, and so through C and D be re- 
excited itself. Another branch from D might excite Y. Then, once started, 
such a circuit might continue active, with excitation going round and round 
like a pin wheel and throwing off regular sparks of activity on each cycle. 
Of course this picture is too simple the circuit would not be set off so 
singly, it would vary in its path and speed of spinning, it would have to 
stop by cell fatigue or other impulse interference, it would involve many 
more cells and connections, were it to accord with the actual behavior of 
the brain. But what is important is that just such circuit patterns, with all 
the needed complexities, have been shown to exist and function in this man- 
ner (Lorente de No). Closure in mental processes, did we say? Here is 
closure woven into the very fabric of the nervous system! 

These closed circuits are mostly over minute distances, in single centers 
of the nervous system, but comparable ones exist on a gross scale. In many 
cases, also, a nerve cell cannot be made to fire by impulses reaching it along 

R. W. Gerard 253 

a single fiber but requires a nudge from two or several arriving at the 
same time (the main effect of a single impulse is expended in a few ten- 
thousandths of a second) and even from different regions. Again, what a 
beautiful basis for making new gestalts or recombinations of sensory mate- 
rial! As one example, recall that light can make sounds seem louder; as 
another, how association areas rework and embroider the activity of pro- 
jection areas. A further instance shows that messages from the frontal lobe 
of the brain, as well as from the optic nerve and thalamus, must reach the 
visual centers for them to become fully active; for after injury to the front 
of the cerebrum the field of vision is narrowed, even though the retina and 
its immediate brain connections to the optic brain areas remain intact 

Several important interactions occur between the cerebrum and thalamus, 
besides those already mentioned. Through the latter pass all sensory mes- 
sages on their way to the projection areas and to full consciousness; and in 
another part of the thalamus are coordinated the bodily responses and per- 
haps the subjective aspects of emotion and other primitive feeling. When 
the cerebrum of an animal is removed, affective behavior is grotesquely 
exaggerated; so nerve paths from the cerebrum hold the thalamus in check. 
Other fibers from the cortex can activate the thalamus, and, indeed, even as 
sensory messages relay up through this part of the brain, other messages 
coming down to it from the cortex can block or enhance their passage 
(Dusser de Barenne). Perhaps what we call attention is in action through 
these paths which functionally open or close the gates of the thalamus and 
allow now one, now another, group of sensory messages access to the cortex 
and full consciousness while relegating the others to the fringe of awareness 
or even to the unconscious. (This is not to say that all cortical activity is 
conscious or self-conscious, for such is not the case. James's figure of con- 
sciousness, as a single lighted candle carried from place to place in the 
cavernous darkness of a great building, is still a good one.) And, a final 
example, certain paths from the thalamus radiate out to much of the cerebral 
cortex and, when stimulated, set the whole cortical sheet into vigorous elec- 
trical beating (Morison and Dempsey). Perhaps this mechanism is respon- 
sible for the overactive mind work that follows an emotional shock. Perhaps 
just this occurred in Goethe's brain when news of his friend's suicide "crys- 
tallized" the plan of "Werther" as, "the whole shot together from all direc- 
tions and became a solid mass." And surely here again is a neural basis for 

Besides such provocative nerve messages, able to influence the action of 
millions of nerve cells, other integrating mechanisms exist in the brain. 
Waves of action can be made to travel slowly over the cerebrum, for ex- 
ample, even when all anatomical connecting paths have been severed. Elec- 

The Creative Process 

trie currents are probably involved here, and, indeed, these are a major 
factor in that environment which influences the discharge of the single 
nerve cell and the coordination of the many. Electrical fields have been 
richly demonstrated in brains; have been shown to vary their pattern with 
state of activity, chemical environment, drug action, and the like (Gerard) ; 
and have even been successfully invoked to explain in detail a variety of 
optical illusions in man (Kohler). By such various mechanisms, then, great 
masses of nerve cells the brain as a great unity act together; and not 
merely do two or a billion units sum their separate contributions, but each 
is part of a dynamic fluctuating activity pattern of the whole. This is the 
orchestra which plays thoughts of truth and beauty, which creates creative 

Plenty of problems remain; some demand attention. Most urgent to our 
present theme is how novel neural patterns originate, since they must accom- 
pany novel thoughts or learning in general. Much attention has been given 
to the phenomena of learning: by "at sight," the slow cumulation of a new 
"correct" response in the course of conditioning experience, the conditioned 
reflex, and by insight, the sudden grasp of a solution and abrupt perform- 
ance of the correct response, the gestalt or closure or imaginative act. They 
seem very different, and, as Terman put it, conditioning serves admirably 
to explain stupid behavior; gestalts, intelligent behavior. The mechanisms 
may indeed be quite different, but it is possible, perhaps probable, that they 
are basically quite similar. In both cases, new functional connections must 
be established in the brain; and this process may be more gradual and cu- 
mulative in the case of insights than appears. For here, also, much brain 
work precedes the imaginative flash the theory of gravitation may result 
only when the metaphorical apple falls on the prepared mind and only 
when the process has progressed to some threshold level does it overflow 
into a conscious (self-conscious) insight. 

So long as our picture of the nervous system was that of the telephone ex- 
change, with reflex plugs all set and each sense organ subscriber connected 
with, and able to call to action, its allotted muscles, the appearance o new 
responses seemed to demand the presence in the brain o rather mysterious 
telephone operators to shift the plugs. Now, with our discovery of a far 
more fluid nervous system, one unceasingly active and with neural and 
electrical messages rippling the whole into dynamic patterns, which flow 
from one contour to another as present influences play upon the condition 
left by past ones with such a picture the arrival of new neural relation- 
ships is no great problem. Schemata have been offered in terms of nerve 
impulse balance, electrical fields, fiber growth which at least indicate rea- 
sonable avenues for further exploration. More difficult still is the question 
of whether the new closures come to occupy particular neural regions, 

R. W. Gerard 255 

whether experience is parceled out in brain cubbyholes from which mem- 
ory can withdraw and examine one package or another. 

The answer seems to be mainly No, but with considerable reserve. A 
conditioned reflex established exclusively via one eye or executed by one 
hand can be at once elicited through the other eye or with the other hand; 
a learned response to a particular figure will be given unhesitatingly when 
the figure is changed in size, color, intensity, position, and even, within 
narrower limits, contour. Yet in each of the shifts indicated, different par- 
ticular nerve fibers and connections are involved, at least in part. Further, 
Lashley has shown that the learning ability of rats parallels the total brain 
mass and is decreased as the brain is whittled away by operations. But the 
loss is not greater when any one region is destroyed as compared to another 
nor even when extensive thin cuts are made rather than removing a com- 
pact lump. Yet even here there begins to appear some suggestion of localiza- 
tion, for, though removal of the visual cortex does not prevent a rat from 
learning a light-discrimination problem, it does wash out a previously 
learned problem of this sort. And recent work on animals like the dog, 
with more elaborated brains, suggests some striking localizations. 

Thus Culler established a conditioned leg flexion by sounding a given tone 
when an electric shock was administered to the paw. The tone alone then 
led to flexion, unless this conditioned response was elicited for a number 
of times without being "reinforced" with the shock, in which case the re- 
sponse was temporarily "extinguished." This is all routine; what is star- 
tling is his report that he found a region of the cortex only two millimeters 
in size and lying in association areas well away from cutaneous, hearing, or 
motor areas, which, on direct stimulation, caused leg flexion in animals with 
an active conditioned reflex but which was inactive in animals in whom the 
reflex was extinguished or had never been established. Another report, by 
Martino, is perhaps even more dramatic. He performed his conditioning so 
that the right eyelid blinked when red light was shown, the left eyelid with 
violet light. He then put strychnine locally on the optic cortex of either the 
right hemisphere (connected to the left field of vision) or the left one. With 
the left side rendered overactive by the drug, red (but not violet) light led 
to eye spasms and convulsions; with the right side drugged, only violet 
light produced the response. 

If such indications hold up, a rapid advance in understanding in this 
field is imminent. Perhaps learning is initially a function of the whole brain 
and as ephemeral as a pattern of activity. But even activity leaves some more 
permanent change in the active part think of the hypertrophy of an exer- 
cised muscle. And brain regions which are most active in particular pat- 
terns think of the nodes and internodes of crossed wave trains might 
well acquire, with repetition of these patterns, alterations which are both 

256 The Creative Process 

more local and more enduring than the initiating disturbance. With such 
regions located it will become practicable to look for the kind o change 
which endures; change in chemical composition or metabolism, electrical 
potential or resistance, cell structure or connection, or whatever it turns out 
to be when found. The figure of a river and its bed, used so vividly by Child 
in picturing the general relation of structure and function, is apposite here. 
The river carves its bed and the bed controls its waters; only by their con- 
tinual interplay can a particular system develop. The spring floods are mass 
responses of the whole to environmental conditions and are transitory dy- 
namic patterns, yet they leave local and lasting changes. Where the waters 
pile up most and the currents are swiftest where the activity disturbance 
is most extreme in a particular total situation, as the potential fields in the 
occipital lobe on visual stimulation there are produced the washed-out 
banks or the undercut cliffs which determine the river's flow for decades to 
come the concrete regional changes wherewith the past directs the future, 
the basis of memory. 

A final problem before coming to the implications of our analysis : What 
is the neural basis for the striking quantitative differences between man 
and man in intelligence or in the several abilities which constitute intelli- 
gence or its component, imagination? Surely brain size as such is not the 
answer, as many studies have demonstrated. Perhaps absolute or relative 
size of the association areas would show better correlation with intelligence; 
or perhaps the richness of fiber connections and the architectural intricacy 
as the more elaborate circuits make the better radios, large or small. And 
the factor of activity level is almost surely involved; not only the size and 
number of nerve cells but their rates of beat, maintained potentials, irri- 
tabilities; their functional vigor. This, in turn, depends on their composition 
(make what you will of the fact that the brains of women contain a higher 
percentage of lipins fats than those of men) and on their metabolism; 
and this, on the blood supply and the amount of oxygen and sugar it brings, 
on the salt and acid and other components of the tissue fluids, on particular 
stimulants or depressants, as the thyroid hormone or anesthetic drugs, and 
the like. The influence of caffeine, alcohol, strychnine, cocaine, morphine, 
hashish, absinthe, and mescaline on brain metabolism and activity are being 
steadily worked out; their dramatic effects on the mind, especially on hallu- 
cinations and imaginings, are commonly enough known and are also being 
further studied (Kluever). As the sets of facts are brought together new 
understanding will arise. Possibly from this direction we shall get a clue 
as to the finer differential between brains: what gives one man a vivid 
imagination but a poor memory, another an encyclopedic memory but dull 
imagination. And when that answer is at hand science will indeed have 
established the biological basis of imagination. 

R. W. Gerard 257 


Without awaiting these riper fruits of research, some immediate morals 
are worth plucking. The ideas tossed into consciousness by imagination are, 
we have seen, overwhelmingly bad untrue or unbeautiful and must be 
curbed and ruddered by reason. Here, surely, lies a difference between the 
more imaginative initiator and the more rational critic. Formal education is 
directed to our conscious reason, which can at least be supplied with content 
and practice; if the more intuitive and unconscious imagination can be cul- 
tivated we have yet to learn the secret. There is the danger of reason stifling 
imagination, that "enterprises of great pith and moment" will be "sicklied 
o'er with the pale cast of thought.' 5 From the young, the naive, the dream- 
ing, the drug users, comes a great spate of fresh imaginings, overwhelm- 
ingly dross but with those rare grains of great insight yet more common 
than from the old, the critical, the staid, or the sophisticated. To teach rigor 
while preserving imagination is an unsolved challenge to education. 

Again, each important advance in form, in structured truth or beauty, is 
the result of a new closure, of a fresh set of axioms; a better set, resulting 
from the greater knowledge and understanding built with the aid of those 
dying. The forming mind of the young can use the new as comfortably as 
the old, but the formed mind of the teacher cannot readily run along the 
new-gauge tracks. The concepts of infinity, relativity, indeterminism in the 
physical realm, as evolution in the biological, were difficult for the estab- 
lished generation, simple for the oncoming one. Yet unless we forever 
question the basic imaginative constructs of our predecessors we condemn 
ourselves to working at progressively more detailed and trivial levels, to 
filling in further digits past the decimal point. Recall Trotter's provocative 
statement : 

"When, therefore, we find ourselves entertaining an opinion about the 
basis of which there is a quality of feeling which tells us that to inquire 
into it would be absurd, obviously unnecessary, unprofitable, undesirable, 
bad form, or wicked, we may know that that opinion is a non-rational one, 
and probably, therefore, founded upon inadequate evidence. Opinions, on 
the other hand, which are acquired as the result of experience alone do not 
possess this quality of primary certitude. They are true in the sense of being 
verifiable, but they are unaccompanied by that profound feeling of truth 
which belief possesses, and, therefore, we have no sense of reluctance in 
admitting inquiry into them." 

In ethical and religious attitudes, even more, the axioms are set at child- 
hood; the re-education of a generation of "Hitler Youth" gives little prom- 
ise of success. Why, even in aesthetics we learn our particular values; the 
dissonances of a mere generation ago are consonances to ears of today. To 

The Creative Process 

preserve open-mindedness while teaching current systems is another un- 
solved problem of education. 

A final word on creative imagination. Besides the intellectual factors, 
certain emotional ones are demanded. The unconscious work goes on only 
over problems that are important to the waking mind, only when the 
mind's possessor worries about them, only when he cares, passionately. As 
Pavlov wrote shortly before his death at 87, advising young men on the 
requisites for effective pursuit of science: "Third, Passion. Remember that 
science demands from a man all his life. If you had two lives that would not 
be enough for you. Be passionate in your work and your searchings." This 
is related to the conscious work recognized by Poincare as preceding the 
unconscious work of imagination; another emotional factor is involved 
with the second period of conscious work which follows: courage. It takes 
courage to face the unfamiliar, to espouse the different; courage to fight 
one's own prejudices only less than those of others. Was it not a little child 
who first dared call the emperor naked? It took great fortitude for Kepler 
to adhere to his new notion of infinity (as the second focus of a parabola), 
for, as he said, "The idea seems absurd, but I can find no flaw in it"; just 
as it did for Galileo to murmur among his inquisitors, "Yet the world does 
move." Most of us will never achieve great imaginative insights; we might 
at least attempt to be tolerant of those offered us by others. 

Somehow, "this power of human thinking . . . seems in times of emer- 
gency or conflict to leap ahead to new truth" (Dummer). Sometime, when 
research in this "constructive power of the unconscious" has increased our 
understanding of insight, man will more effectively guide his onward 

From "The Biological Basis of the Imagination," by R. W. Gerard, in The Scientific Monthly, 
June, 1946, By permission of the author and the publishers of The Scientific Monthly: The 
American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

R. W. Gerard 259